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Articles from 2000 In April


Organic products defined

Rapid growth in this sector helps spur USDA national standards proposal.

It took years of effort, but the USDA is about to settle this long-standing question once and for all: What is organic?

The government's proposed National Organic Standards leave no doubt about the answer (see sidebar). And the sweeping regulations cover organic production from the farm gate to the final processor and packager, including product labels.

"It will be the most comprehensive, strictest organic rule in the world," says Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman. "The need for these standards rose out of the exponential growth of organic agriculture. It is a sector that is here to stay - growing from $78 million in 1980 to about $6 billion today, with continuing growth of 20% each year. And whereas most other sectors of agriculture are losing farmers, the number of organic farmers is increasing by 12% per year. All of this is happening in response to increasing consumer demand."

A booming market. That is an understatement. And there are many examples - from producers and retailers - that underscore the broad acceptance of organic products in the marketplace.

On the producer side, the Coulee Region Organic Produce Pool (CROPP), based in LaFarge, WI, exemplifies success in this booming market. In 1988 seven area farmers banded together to market organic vegetables and dairy products under their own "Organic Valley" label. Four years later the group was selected to be the original supplier of organic milk to Horizon Organic, a fledgling organic milk marketer based in Longmont, CO.

Today the seven-member cooperative has grown to include 160 farm families in 10 states, and the Organic Valley label appears on dairy, beef, pork and poultry products. Sales hit $20 million last year and the cooperative expects to post $27 million in sales this year.

Horizon Organic is another example of near exponential growth. In 1992 when it sourced milk solely from CROPP, the private company posted $500,000 in sales. By the time Inc. magazine put Horizon Organic on its list of fastest growing companies in 1997 (it was ranked 66th out of 500), sales topped $29 million. In 1998 officers took the company public and posted more than $49 million in sales. Last year the company's sales figures hit $84.8 million, with its products available nationwide at 10,000 stores.

Like most organic products, Horizon's products first found shelf space in tiny "boutique" health food stores like Whole Foods Market, which began with a single store in Austin, TX, and Wild Oats, which opened its first store in Boulder, CO. Both retailers are now megachains with staggering sales totals. Whole Foods, which now boasts 100 stores in 20 states, racked up sales of $749 million in 1995; $946 million in 1996; $1.1 billion in 1997; $1.4 billion in 1998; and $1.6 billion last year.

Wild Oats posted similar percentage increases: In 1996 sales were $192 million, rising to $721 million last year. Both chains are now publicly owned companies.

Certainly, health food companies are no longer alone in this burgeoning market sector. General Mills introduced Sunrise cereal last year, which is produced from organically grown corn and wheat, and recently purchased Small Planet Foods, a leading producer of organic food products based in Sedro-Woolley, WA. Small Planet had $60 million in sales last year.

Why target the organic market? General Mills spokesperson Pam Becker says the company's reasoning is a no-brainer.

"Organic foods are a fit with our strategic growth," Becker says. "Demand has been growing 20% per year, and the fact is there are a lot of consumers who care and they want a choice. So we are answering that demand. In fact, we are test marketing organic flour right now."

Paving the way. To help farmers tap this growing market, some progressive states are helping them get certified. In Minnesota, farmers can apply for cost-share money to pay for the required inspections.

"Last fall we began reimbursing organic farmers for two-thirds of the inspection costs," says Prescott Bergh, organic production coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. "We had 187 applicants for the program, and my best guess is that currently there are 300 to 400 organic farmers in the state.

"We looked at what Europe is doing, and found out that they are about 15 years ahead of us. Many European countries have a stated goal that they want 10% of their acreage organic, and they are helping farmers get there. We are headed in the same direction."

According to Agriculture Secretary Glickman, the U.S. government is stepping up to the table to encourage organic farmers. He says the budget proposal includes $5 million in research money for organic agriculture; a pilot organic crop insurance program is being initiated; and a cooperative agreement with the University of California-Davis will investigate placing organic products in a USDA marketing order program.

With the new National Organic Program, Glickman says, "We are smoothing the way for even more growth in organic agriculture and furthering the development of another new market for farmers. [The program] also will help organic farmers more easily export their products because our trading partners will know exactly what they are getting."

For more information, visit www.ams.usda.gov/nop/.

Global sales. To be sure, the international market is ripe. Consider what the U.S. Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) has to say about international supply and demand.

Japan. The FAS predicts sales of organic products will hit $3 billion for 1999. An FAS report states, "This is an untapped opportunity for U.S. exporters. Due to the difficulty of growing organic foods in Japan coupled with rising demand, imports of organics [to Japan] could rise dramatically in the near future. Imports account for less than four percent of current sales."

New Zealand. New Zealand's organic producers and processors have formed the Organic Products Exporters Group (OPEG). The group currently exports $15.9 million worth of organic products but plans to increase exports to $35.7 million by 2001. Japan, the United States and European countries now take nearly all exported organic products. New target markets include Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan.

Taiwan. Taiwan's annual imports of organic foods are valued at about $9.7 million. The FAS expects annual sales of organic products to hit $19.4 million in the next three years. At this time, 40% of Taiwan's imported organic products come from Germany.

Germany. The governments of Germany and other European Union countries have subsidized organic production since 1989. Farmers receive $44/acre to convert to organic production. Total organic food sales are estimated at $2 billion, and the FAS reports that "strong competition for U.S. suppliers is arising from China."

Argentina. According to an FAS report about Argentina, the country "is in a privileged position to develop organic agriculture due to its diverse climates and ecological conditions for various crops, and its extensive production systems, which have traditionally used small quantities of agrochemicals and which do not require significant changes for the conversion from traditional to organic agriculture. Approximately 85% of Argentina's organic production is exported, estimated at $20 million."

The USDA's proposed standards affect every aspect of organic food production, beginning at the farm and progressing to processors, manufacturers and packagers. Farmers must be certified by annual inspections, and before qualifying, they must have an approved farm plan. The entire proposal consists of 650 pages, but here are the basics:

Crop standards * Land that is to be planted to an organic crop must have had no prohibitive substances applied to it during the preceding three years. * An approved farm plan must include crop rotation. * Genetically engineered organisms are not allowed, and sewage sludge cannot be applied. * Soil fertility and crop nutrients must be managed with tillage and cultivation, supplemented with manure, crop waste and allowed synthetic materials. * Pests, weeds and diseases must be controlled primarily with physical, mechanical and biological controls. When necessary, a biological, botanical or allowed synthetic substance can be used.

Livestock standards * Food animals must be raised on an organic operation from birth. * Producers must feed 100% organically produced feeds to livestock but can provide additional vitamin and mineral supplements. * Hormones and antibiotics are prohibited. * Preventive management practices, including the use of vaccines, can be used to keep animals healthy. Producers are prohibited from withholding treatment from a sick or injured animal, but animals treated with a prohibited medication must be removed from the organic herd. * All organically raised animals must have access to the outdoors, including pasture for ruminants. They can be temporarily confined only for health and safety reasons, or to protect soil or water quality.

Adjuvants make spraying pay

But choosing among 4,000 unregulated products is no easy task.

An adjuvant could help you trim herbicide costs, improve weed control and broaden the window of application. On the other hand, you could shell out your hard-earned cash on an adjuvant and not reap any of these benefits.

"Picking the adjuvant that complements your herbicide isn't a simple task," acknowledges Dennis Berglund, a crop consultant with Centrol Crop Consulting, Twin Valley, MN. He adds, "If there was a practical book written on the subject, I'd be the first in line to buy it."

Even so, Berglund believes that if you learn how to use adjuvants as a management tool, you can stretch your herbicide dollars without compromising weed control. The key is understanding the types of adjuvants available, the companies that are reputable providers and how to use their products successfully in the field.

Which adjuvant do you need? An adjuvant is any substance added to the spray tank, apart from the herbicide, that improves its weed-control performance. Adjuvants fit into three basic categories: activators, spray modifiers and utility modifiers. Farmers most often use activators in their weed-control programs, as specified by herbicide product labels. Activator adjuvants include nonionic surfactants, fertilizer solutions, petroleum-based crop oil and methylated vegetable oil, commonly referred to as methylated seed oil or MSO.

Adjuvants truly fit the philosophy of you get what you pay for. An inexpensive surfactant may cost only $0.25/acre, whereas a superior MSO may reach $3/acre. The difference in their performance can be just as dramatic, says Richard Zollinger, North Dakota State University extension weed specialist. He offers one example as proof: In North Dakota, Accent herbicide used at its full rate in corn, along with a $0.25 surfactant, costs about $20.25/acre. A half rate of Accent along with a superior $2.50 adjuvant runs only $12.50/acre. Zollinger says that, with care, farmers can use the lower-cost approach, secure weed control comparable to the full-rate results, and pocket the $7.75 difference.

"Our research and experience show a superior adjuvant often will provide adequate weed control with reduced herbicide rates," he confirms.

Zollinger mentions another potential benefit from this approach to adjuvant use. Both the current political administration and the general public continue to express a preference for less pesticide use in the food chain.

However, Zollinger cautions farmers against blindly shaving rates. Farmers must evaluate where a reduced herbicide rate combined with an adjuvant makes sense and offers the most savings. They also must be willing to shoulder responsibility for applications that fail.

Because no regulatory agency oversees the development and marketing of the 4,000-plus adjuvants available, some of these products work and some don't, Zollinger explains. Growers must evaluate university research results, ask their local ag chemical dealers for recommendations and perhaps use trial and error to identify which adjuvants fit their needs. Zollinger adds, "Be aware that weed pressure, heat and humidity can also impact adjuvant performance from year to year."

Start on a small scale. Minimize any gamble by using the reduced rate with an adjuvant approach on only a few acres, Berglund says. He recommends selecting fields with a minimum to moderate level of weed pressure. Plus, you need to have a backup plan ready in case the first spray application gives less than stellar control results.

In 1997 brothers Kelly and Perry Skaurud of Gary, MN, began using herbicide micro-rates with an MSO on 1,800 acres of sugar beets. That year they used an 11-in. banded application and two cultivations. "We decided if it didn't work, we'd come back in and spray the second time with a conventional rate," Kelly says. "But we were so happy with the results, we haven't used full conventional herbicide rates since."

However, the brothers have experimented with different application approaches. In 1998 they broadcast micro-rates and the MSO. That allowed them to eliminate all cultivations. But in 1999, due to a drop in sugar beet prices, they returned to the 11-in. banded approach followed by two cultivations. Their total investment per season for three banded applications and two cultivations is approximately $30/acre, about half the cost of the broadcast approach.

"We've gained better weed control at a lower cost and less injury to the crop, and we have more application flexibility," Kelly says. "We used to be able to spray only in the late afternoons and early evenings, but now we can go pretty much throughout the day."

Bob Herzfeld, adjuvant product manager for Agriliance, agrees that spray flexibility is an important payoff. But, like Zollinger, Herzfeld says temperature and humidity can cause problems. He explains that, of the three most commonly used adjuvants, MSOs tend to be the fastest acting and the most efficacious, petroleum-based crop oil concentrates rank second, and nonionic surfactants rank third. Herzfeld encourages growers to ratchet down their selection of those three products, depending on the weather of a given day, to prevent crop injury. "If it's 85 degrees with 75% humidity, you're headed for trouble with an MSO," he says. "Under those conditions, switch to a nonionic surfactant to minimize any crop response."

The role of water. The quality of spray water and how it interacts with herbicides and adjuvants are neglected aspects of the weed-control equation, Herzfeld says. He tells farmers to start with clean water and to test all water sources to identify the elements they contain. For instance, well water may have a high iron content. City water probably contains chlorine. These elements can antagonize the adjuvant and impact its performance, whereas the right water can improve performance.

For example, Herzfeld says that tankmixes including sulfonylurea and imidazolinone chemistries, plus an adjuvant, prefer a neutral to high pH water, but glyphosate prefers an acid-based water. The solution is to use buffering agents, also called utility modifiers, to change the water quality to the degree that is most compatible with the herbicide and adjuvant used.

One last note about water. Herzfeld points out that in April spray water is usually cold and doesn't contribute to good mixing results. "You want water that's at least 50 degrees for mixing purposes," he notes. Herbicides that don't mix well can cause nozzle plugging. Many growers use nurse tanks that hold nothing but water to raise the temperature and sidestep this problem.

Manufacturers need to help. Zollinger advises growers to consult herbicide manufacturers about adjuvants that complement their products. Dupont, for one, offers an agricultural bulletin that lists the adjuvants approved for use with its row crop and cereal herbicides. Zollinger hopes other companies will follow suit with specific recommendations. "Most herbicide labels are ambiguous about the adjuvant to be used, and that needs to change," he says.

Herzfeld encourages growers to consult adjuvant manufacturers for their research results. He says cost is also a good guideline on value. "Sometimes there's only a dime's difference between a good-quality adjuvant and a bad one, so make the better investment," Herzfeld says. "Don't cheap out."

For more information, check out a good adjuvant home page at Southern Illinois University's site at www.siu.edu/~weeds/adjuvants/ frames-index.htm.

Top farmer show picks

Team FIN farmers search the Louisville show for efficiency buys.

A long with covering what was new at the National Farm Machinery Show, we asked Indiana farmer Steve Webb and Illinois brothers Jack and Gary Appleby to work the aisles in search of products or ideas to add efficiency to any farm operation. Here is what they found.

Truck tarp system. Shur-Co's patented Turning-Point Bow System not only supports end-dump or dump body truck tarps but its bows actually swing out of the way to ease grain loading. The system fits a 3- to 7-bow truck (12- to 48-ft. box) and costs $1,077 to $1,500 complete. The bow system alone runs $310 to $663. Contact Shur-Co, Dept. FIN, Box 713, Yankton, SD 57078, 800/474-8756.

Cordless rechargeable grease gun. At Buzzard Gulch's booth, farmers were crowding around Lincoln Automotive's Power-Luber 12v grease gun. The company claims that the gun cuts lubricating time in half and even busts through clogged zerks due to a grease flow rate of 6,000 psi. A kit with one or two batteries is available at a sale price of $170 to $220.

Steve Webb likes to encourage use of this type of preventive maintenance product. "If it will make people take better care of their equipment so that it is in better shape when it is 15 years old and I can afford to buy it, I'm all for it," he says.

Contact Buzzard Gulch Inc., Dept. FIN, 13925 W. U.S. Hwy. 136, New Hampton, MO 64471, 800/821-2932.

Bin buster. The Spreader's new product (shown at left) is designed to help free grain bin wells. A 4-ft. handle provides enough leverage to pull straight and with even pressure on the well slide. One tool will open all bins. Price: $60. Contact The Spreader Inc., Dept. FIN, Box 189, Gifford, IL 61847, 800/428-9046.

Quick hitch. For quick wagon hitching and unhitching from the cab, check out Bergman's Agri-Speed Hitch that mounts on tractor drawbars, wagons, pickups, choppers and corn pickers. Price: $275 for the hitch and $125 for a wagon unit. Contact Bergman Mfg. Inc., Dept. FIN, 2866 Quail Ave., Arthur, IA 51431, 800/551-4554.

Combine guard. W.A. Johnson's Grain Saver mounts on top at the rear of the combine sickle bar to prevent grain from rolling out and dirt and rocks from rolling in. The company claims that the product will save enough soybeans in one afternoon to pay for itself. Price: $20/ft. Contact W.A. Johnson, Dept. FIN, 2340 Ampere Dr., Louisville, KY 40299, 800/523-3979.

Combine chopper control. Clever Tech says that its sickle section chopper control and kit, designed to fit most Case IH combines, will cut straw and stubble shorter to turn mulch into available plant food quicker for next year's crop. Price: $437. Contact Clever Tech, Dept. FIN, 4121 S. Canfield Rd., Jesup, IA 50648, 319/827-1311.

Rebounder 2000. Webb likes this popular planter and drill firming device "because it truly works and is relatively low in cost. In fact it works better on my grain drill than on the planter." Price: $20 to $23/row. Contact Schaffert Mfg. Co. Inc., Dept. FIN, RR 1, Box 157, Indianola, NE 69034, 800/382-2607.

Plastic auger flighting. For the gentle handling of bulk seed, Lundell offers high-density polyethylene with the cupped design in auger flighting. Each module is assembled onto a mild or stainless steel hexagon tube, fastened together using a patented interlocking lap joint. Available in 5-, 6- or 7-in. diameters. Price range: $15.50 to $19.91/ft. on a galvanized center shaft, $19.35 to $23.86/ft. on a stainless steel center shaft. Contact The Lundell Corp., Dept. FIN, 400 W. Market St., Odebolt, IA 51458, 712/668-2400.

Battery booster. Century's J1000 Booster Pac gives 275 crank-assist amps and 1,000 peak amps to jump-start vehicles or provide power for household or outdoor applications. It also has a DC outlet to run any 12v cell phones, lights or tools for hours before recharging on a standard 110v outlet. Price: $126. Contact Century Mfg. Co., Dept. FIN, 9231 Penn Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN 55431, 800/328-2921.

Machinery department

Multiply hydraulic options Get two sets of hydraulic hookups out of one tractor outlet when you use the ProMaster N2 hydraulic multiplier valve from Fasse Valves.

The unit mounts to existing SCV tractor outlets. The N2 valves have larger port sizes for faster flow (with a flow rate of 20 gpm) and sealed weatherproof connectors. Installation takes less than an hour, according to the company. Price was not available at press time. Contact Fasse Valves, Dept. FIN, Box 2348, Kearney, NE 68848, 800/345-7745.

Did you know? Reevaluate choice and pressure of tires on harvest equipment if you're modifying the machines; added weight can cause premature tire failure. Bin extensions of up to 160 bu. added to a 240-bu. bin can add 8,320 lbs. to the machine, causing tire overload.

Agclick Search for used equipment through North American Equipment Dealers Association's Web site by logging on to www.ironsearch.com. Search criteria include type, make, model number, age and dealer location. Equipment details include options, condition and cost. Only a few, poor-quality photos are shown of the equipment, but the information is good.

Price guide Before you buy, sell or trade a used tractor, check out the Used Tractor Price Guide from Intertec Publishing. This comprehensive reference covers models produced by more than 30 different manufacturers with detailed information about farm tractors produced from 1939 through 1999. It lists the approximate retail price of each tractor when it was new, plus a high and low range of its estimated used value. Specifications on engine size, transmission speeds, shipping weight and PTO horsepower also are given. A listing of serial numbers allows you to determine the year a tractor was built. Price: $13. Contact Intertec Publishing, Dept. FIN, Box 12901, Overland Park, KS 66282, 800/ 262-1954, www.intertec books.com.

Haul big machinery safely It weighs 18,000 lbs., yet the updated Trail-Eze Wideside machinery trailer can haul up to 60,000 lbs. of heavy machinery overall, or 30,000 lbs. on its double-drop deck platform. The Wideside features pullout 3- x 5-in. tubes set on 16-in. cross member spacings to increase width to the required 13 ft. needed for hauling combines safely and legally. The trailer features a sloping rear end to allow better clearance for tractor drawbars or for low-clearance machines. Price range: $35,000 to $40,000.

The company's TE70SA Sliding Axle trailer handles a 70,000-lb. load (distributed from front to tail). The slide axle allows the bed to tilt hydraulically to a 7_1/2 inch angle. This offers a low approach and departure angle for low-clearance machinery. Air ride suspension and hydraulic and remote winches come standard. Trailer weight is 16,500 lbs. Price range: $35,000 to $45,000. Contact Trail-Eze Trailers, Dept. FIN, Box 1188, Mitchell, SD 57301, 800/232-5682.

Clean up the air Dust- and pollen-filled days are just ahead but you can be prepared with a Wix cab air filter designed to keep tractor and loader cabs cleaner and allergen free.

A new cabin air filter can remove pollen and mold, as well as filter out exhaust fumes and dust. Air filters are installed in machinery cabs in the factory or can be added at your dealership. If you already have them installed in your cabs, now might be a good time to change them for fresh spring planting. See your dealer for installation or replacement filters. Filter prices start at $25. Contact Wix Filtration Products Div., Dana Corp., Dept. FIN, Box 1967, Gastonia, NC 28053, 704/864-6711.

How secure is online buying?

Adopt some simple Internet strategies to protect and safeguard yourself.

Agriculture's lag in adopting Internet purchasing may work in a farmer's favor. While consumers logged onto buying sites in record numbers, many farmers watched and waited.

Now as farmers explore e-commerce sites for farm inputs, U.S. consumers have run into the first flush of Internet trouble. As a result, agricultural sites are learning from others' mistakes and producing secure venues for farm business.

Online trouble. Consumer magazines and newspapers are plastered with news about Internet security and privacy issues. And no wonder. Recent shutdowns of business at popular sites like Amazon.com and eBay caused everyone to rethink the Internet. Then word of the ability of DoubleClick, an Internet advertising company, to track and sell consumer buying profiles hit the news. Suddenly, it looked as if Big Brother is watching everyone.

Add these troubles to the National Consumer League's estimate that six million U.S. consumers experienced Internet-related scams with credit cards last year.

But experts in agricultural e-commerce assure farmers that the Internet is a great place to do business. "Because of what has happened, companies are bending over backwards to make sure you feel comfortable transacting business," reports Scott Belknap, vice-president of applications for E-Markets. "Businesses have made such a push to do commerce over the Internet, they have beefed up their sites to make them accessible and comfortable."

Internet crime. One buyer who was a victim of Internet crime still stands behind the safety of online business. Bill Gass of Fielder's Choice discovered charges from Serbia, Italy and California on his credit card bill. He believes the number was stolen over the Internet.

In spite of his experience, he says sites like Fielder's Choice Direct, which sells seed, go to great lengths to maintain security. Fielder's Choice subscribes to Verisign, a ser-vice that encrypts credit card numbers. "The information never passes across the Internet in a readable form," he explains. "Buying on the Internet is probably safer than buying over the phone."

Gass recommends that, to avoid what happened to him, growers should make sure an area is secure before giving any valuable information.

The right to privacy. Privacy on the Internet also has become a big issue. Most activity on the Internet can be tracked to individual users. Some Internet companies collect the information and market it to companies that want to target specific customers. The days of anonymous surfing are over.

Several agricultural e-commerce sites do not follow that trend. Although these sites do track customers, they are adamant about not releasing the information to other parties unless the grower agrees to it. Privacy statements readily found on the sites detail what information is collected and what is done with it.

To companies like E-Markets, customer privacy is vital. "We're staking our business on it," E-Markets' Belknap says. The company does not market customer information to other parties.

XSAg.com also makes it well known on its site that it does not release a customer's personal information to a third party without the customer's permission.

Know their reputations. Although problems and perils do exist on the Internet, growers can safely navigate and buy from it by following commonsense rules, such as buying from a local retailer.

"It's just like buying a car," Belknap says. "Make sure you buy from a reputable dealer." Over and over, Internet experts recommend knowing the reputation of the person or company you intend to do business with on the Internet.

If you are unfamiliar with the business, ask for its address and phone number. Then check its history with outside organizations such as the Better Business Bureau (BBB) or ask other growers about it. The BBB operates a Web site for reports about online businesses: www.BBBOnLine.org.

The most reputable e-commerce sites publish business policies within easy reach of their home pages. XSAg.com, for example, rolls out a 10-page document detailing its business policies, user agreement and privacy statement just one click away from its home page.

Then take the time to read the policy statements. "Make sure you understand the rules," reports Michael R. Ward, consumer economist, University of Illinois. "There are as many different types of auctions as you can imagine and the rules differ. Some offer escrow services, which will cost money." But an escrow service may save money in the long run by guaranteeing a product will be delivered.

"It is amazing just how many products are sold," Ward adds. "We had one student want to research a specific gold coin. He found 500 auctions for that one coin. It can be daunting going through all the sites."

Security, security, security. The level of security on a Web site gives clues about the site's reputation. Highly reputable sites offer more.

When you enter a secure area of a site, a locked padlock will appear at the bottom of the screen and/or the "http" in the URL box will switch to "https." Check for them before typing in personal information such as credit card numbers.

Encryption services such as Verisign provide security for Web sites. Some sites display security logos on the home page.

"If you continue to do lots of transactions with a business, it pays to set up an account and password," Ward suggests. "A password lets the business know you've successfully conducted business with them in the past."

When setting up passwords, use something easily remembered but stay away from established information like addresses, phone numbers and social security numbers. Belknap suggests mixing symbols and numbers in passwords. "If someone is trying to hack into a password and must use all those special characters, it takes longer," he says.

Do not use the same password for other accounts. And keep all passwords private. Do not put the password on a note and tape it to a computer.

In the future, expect more passwords and higher security measures for doing business online. "Applications are requiring digital signatures and security keys," Belknap says. "As you click on something, you need a key or more than a password to run it."

Beware of e-mail. "E-mail is a big security issue on its own," Belknap says. "You need to understand the Internet is a public highway. Any e-mail you send can potentially be looked at by an unscrupulous provider."

If you send sensitive business information through e-mail, encryption services are available. Check the Internet for encryption possibilities like www.freedom.net. Internet watchers expect that other encryption services will be developed as the cryptographers design more sophisticated systems.

Probably more troublesome with e-mail is the potential for unintended third parties to reroute and read it. "One sore spot is people sending lewd jokes or derogatory comments," Ward says. "Think twice before sending those. E-mail is much more public than a phone conversation."

Virus prevention. Computer viruses enter through e-mail, attachments and programs downloaded from the Internet. If you don't have an anti-virus program running on your computer, you should. "When you get an attachment, be aware of what it is and who is sending it," says Belknap. "If you have no virus program, don't open it. A virus cannot infect your PC if you don't open the attachment and you delete the message.

"The more your e-mail address gets out there, the more likely you will get on somebody's list to receive something you may not want to receive," he continues. "I recommend farmers buy a virus program like Norton's anti-virus program."

When purchasing anti-virus software, register with the company because it should provide software updates as new viruses infect the Internet.

Internet service providers also are starting to provide virus-checking programs for a minimal fee, Belknap says. He subscribes to a service from USWest th at scans e-mail for viruses before they are delivered to his address.

To see if a Windows operating system is up-to-date with the lastest security fixes, Belknap suggests logging onto WindowsUpdate.microsoft.com.

Control your surfing. When surfing the Internet, pay attention. "If there are a lot of banner ads that look like part of the page, they have buttons and will take you somewhere else," Belknap says. Watch the URL address box to see if it changes before checking out.

Be careful of Internet searches, too. Belknap says a search of Yahoo for American Girl dolls turned up several pornographic sites. Steer children to safe search engines such as www.Yahooligans.com.

If you do get on questionable sites, be careful what information you give or what you download. Security could be a problem and your privacy compromised.

When you use an Internet browser, copies of pages and images are retained in a computer cache. While this speeds up browsing, it also leaves a user trail, particularly for people who share your computer. Delete the cache after browsing to prevent anyone from checking your browsing habits. The preference folder on the browser should contain a button to empty the cache.

Do you really want those cookies? Web sites often attach a "cookie" or tiny file to your hard drive to identify you the next time you log onto a site. Cookies are only supposed to be retrievable by the site. They may contain everything from how many times you've visited the site to your credit card number.

Cookies were designed to be a convenience for site visitors. Every time a visitor logged on, he or she did not need to retype identification information. The cookie remembered.

Most reputable e-commerce sites, including agricultural ones, require cookies from users.

A cookie controversy erupted when the information was used to target advertising. Companies like DoubleClick collect cookie information to profile a user's interests and browsing habits. For example, the company can match banner ads with users who frequent high-tech sites. Users protested, citing a breach of privacy.

"The question is, Do you want them to know that much information about you and will they sell it to other vendors?" Ward says. "My browser accepts cookies, but I have it set to ask me if I want them. So if it is a reputable site, I will accept it. If I go to a site that seems a little fly-by-night, I will be more reluctant to accept a cookie.

"Cookies are nearly ubiquitous. Any retailer with any sophistication will have them, especially any site that has a banner ad. It is a way of measuring who is looking at these ads."

Check out the cookies already on your system. From the browser, find an Internet options tab that will lead to Temporary Internet Files. Look for files with the word "cookies" in the name and delete unwanted ones.

The browser may be set to immediately accept a cookie, reject it or notify you when a site wants to place a cookie. These settings usually are found under security settings in an Internet options section.

The latest way to keep private while browsing is through new anonymous services. The services act as a third party between the user and the Internet. They retrieve files and pages without revealing the user's identity.

Check privacy statements. Cookies are an inevitable part of doing business on the Internet. Users can learn more about how a Web site uses the information in the site's privacy statement, which should be located somewhere on the site. Often, companies offer an "opt-out" box for users who do not agree to share information with third parties.

Some sites use a third party to verify that the site meets minimum security and privacy requirements. TRUSTe is one often seen on farm sites. The service verifies that the Web site has met the basic requirements of disclosure, choice, access and security.

Undeterred use. As tales of Internet woes hit the news, most experts agree online business forges ahead. Web companies will correct problems. Satisfied consumers will continue their Internet use undeterred.

"The Internet is thought to be the reason why home computers are taking off," Ward says. "Consumers want to shop online, look for information and get baseball scores."

Common sense combined with new services to ensure security and privacy should make online businesses profitable.

Crops department

90-bushel beans Wayne Schulte of Dorchester, IA, won the titles of Champion Soybean Grower and Champion Conservation Tillage Soybean Grower with a yield of 90.16 bu./acre of soybeans (using Croplan Genetic's 1984) in the 1999 Iowa Master Corn and Soybean Growers' Contest. Keith Hora of Riverside, IA, won the No-Till Soybean Grower division with a yield of 84.30 bu./acre (using Stine's 3398.8). All three wins were record breakers for the contest.

Dave Kesler of Elida, OH, won the Dairyland National Soybean Yieldmaster Contest with a yield of 87.09 bu./acre with the company's DSR-293/RR.

Accept change "In modest structural change, wisdom and experience count a lot. But in periods of rapid structural change, letting go, open-mindedness and no experience may be worth more." Mike Boehlje, ag economist, Purdue University, citing youthful thinking as an important asset in the new agriculture - Agricultures

SCN rates high in Midwest Before you finalize your soybean picks for the growing season, take a good look at soybean cyst nematode (SCN) infestation because you may need to choose an SCN-resistant variety, suggests Dr. Greg Tylka, Iowa State University.

According to results of the first scientific random sampling of soybean fields across the Midwest, SCN infestations are worse than expected. Tylka found SCN infestation in 74% of the fields in Iowa; 83% in Illinois; 72% in Missouri, 60% in Ohio; 54% in Minnesota; and 47% in Indiana.

On-farm trials of SCN-resistant soybean varieties, conducted by Ohio State University researchers, show the varieties can offer a 10- to 15-bu./acre yield advantage in areas where infestation levels are high (3,000 to 5,000 eggs/200 cc of soil).

Growth spurt Scientists at The Salk Institute have isolated a gene that speeds up maturation in plants. The new gene, named FT, accelerates all phases of plant growth. An Arabidopsis seedling with the FT gene (shown above) flowered immediately upon germination. Scientists expect growers to one day determine how fast or slow they want a plant to pass through its various growth stages.

Also, scientists at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, have discovered a gene, called CYC-1, that not only accelerates plant growth but also encourages size, resulting in a plant up to three times larger than a plant without the gene. CYC-1 controls the rate at which plant cells divide. Quicker plant growth could produce an extra crop to harvest. - MIT's Technology Review, ScienceDaily.com

Consumers' take on biotechnology n a recent survey of American consumers conducted by Wirthlin Worldwide for the International Food Information Council, 75% of the respondents say that benefits from biotechnology are forthcoming; 78% trust FDA's approach to regulating biotech crops; and 7 out of 10 support the current FDA labeling policy. More than two-thirds of the respondents say they would be likely to buy produce that has been modified to protect against insect damage (less pesticide used). However, 67% of the consumers surveyed say they have heard little or nothing about biotechnology, and only 33% believe there are bioengineered foods in the supermarket. - Agri Marketing

A true bulk system Novartis Seeds is adding to its new TruBulk soybean delivery option this season to help cut your seed-handling time and get you planting quicker. An additional 60 dealers have upgraded their facilities to accommodate TruBulk customers. You can pick up bulk seed directly from local outlets without the hassle of containers.

To load seed, simply pull your gravity wagon in to your local dealership; it's quickly filled and you are on your way. One Novartis Seeds dealer who uses the system says he cut one customer's loading time in half by using the TruBulk system rather than loading and unloading 2,500-lb. Convenience Paks. Contact Novartis Seeds Inc., Dept. FIN, Box 959, Golden Valley, MN 55440, 612/593-7128, www.nk.com.

Touchdown for growers Growers who choose Touchdown 5 herbicide for application over Roundup Ready (RR) soybeans may find added confidence in Zeneca's new Touchdown Assurance Plan (TAP).

With the plan's Replant Assistance, growers can qualify for a refund of up to $6.50/bag if a RR bean crop is damaged and replanted back to RR beans. If Touchdown or Gramoxone Extra was applied for burndown weed control in an RR field in which crop loss occurs, Zeneca will subtract the value of the original treatment from the purchase price of a burndown retreatment. A Clean to Canopy plan covers unexpected weed flush prior to canopy closure or within 60 days of planting and if the grower meets certain criteria. You can qualify for the TAP by using any brand of RR seed, and you may use other herbicides. Call the Zeneca Ag Products hotline at 800/759-2500.

Business of buying

AgriClick.com provides latest ag info Now you can check out the latest information from Farm Industry News on a new Web site: www.AgriClick.com. AgriClick pulls together information from nine farm publications as well as daily farm news and market and weather reports. The broad scope of information covered on the site should help you make critical decisions about ag inputs and issues.

Introduced this past winter, AgriClick provides up-to-the-minute news about corn, soybeans, hay and forage, wheat, cattle, hogs, dairy, cotton and other crops. Site visitors select a news subject and then click on it for quick access to the information.

The site follows the breaking news of governmental legislation and regulations affecting agriculture as well as major advances in ag technology and new products.

Continuously updated market quotes keep you abreast of price swings. And sophisticated weather reports alert you to critical weather conditions in your area.

Current and past articles from nine leading agricultural publications including Farm Industry News are available on AgriClick.

The business-to-business site will continue to evolve as a network with discussion groups, bulletin boards, buyer's guides, directories and e-commerce, including online equipment and product auctions.

Check out the site at www.AgriClick.com where a monthly prize goes to one of the registered visitors.

Ag updates Experts predict that biobased products, the non-food, non-feed products produced from natural agricultural materials, will be the next big wave in agriculture. Check out the new Web site www.Agfibertechnology.com for timely information on this emerging industry.

Philip Morris is helping to fund a new Farm Bureau Web site, www.ageducate.com, to provide teachers with ideas, resources and links to help tell agriculture's story.

E buying A new site, www.CyberCrop.com, is claimed to be the first secure site for buyers and sellers to conduct online cash grain transactions. An independent e-commerce company based in Fort Collins, CO, will roll out this grain exchange in May for corn, soybeans and wheat. It will provide the tools that producers and buyers need to place bids and counteroffers and to complete transactions and contracts over the Internet.

E-Markets and Grain Service Corporation are beginning an alliance to deploy Internet-based e-commerce applications to benefit both the farmer and the elevator grain buyer. At the site www.e-markets.com, growers can use the marketing tool called Decision Rule Contracts to automate contract pricing 24 hours a day.

New from the National Farm Machinery Show

Farmers and tractor-pull enthusiasts came in record numbers, almost 288,000, to Louisville in mid-February for the country's largest indoor agricultural exposition. Check out some of the new products we uncovered.

Pump tracker The first electronic display to track your ground-driven metering pump's application rate is new from John Blue Company. The LM-1000 Pump Calculator-Data Tracker provides you with the pump setting and tracks ground speed, acres covered, application rate in gallons per acre, distance traveled, flow rate in gallons per minute, and pump speed. Features include a lighted readout and weatherproof cable connectors. Installation is easy because there is only one connection; you simply mount a magnetic rpm sensor on the metering pump and connect to the display. Price: $695. Contact John Blue Co., Dept. FIN, Box 1607, Huntsville, AL 35807, 800/253-2583.

Till in a zone The Zone-Tiller Plus carrier from Unverferth allows for prescription nutrient placement on one or both sides of the rowwhen it's combined with the company's seedbed prep tool, the Zone Tiller, hitched in front of a planter or drill. A compact, heavy-duty design uses dual 12.5 x 15 wheels and tires to transport a 500-gal. tank. A ground-driven piston pump and flow monitor moves and tracks the liquid. And it easily attaches to pull-type and Cat. III 3-pt. planters and drills. An electronic monitor option is available. Price: $14,500. Contact Unverferth Mfg. Co. Inc., Dept. FIN, Box 357, Kalida, OH 45853, 800/322-6301.

Strip-till tool Create residue-free planting strips while applying dry, liquid or both types of fertilizer with Remlinger's new Precision Strip Till (PST) machine. Available in a 6-row, 8-row or folding 12-row design, the PST features floating 15-in. trash wheels; heavy-duty coulter with depth band; chrome cap deep ripper points; 18-in. notched closing discs; parallel link on each row for uniform depth of 5, 6_1/2 or 8 in.; optional shear bolts or reset shanks; and optional dry and wet fertilizer tubes. Price range: $7,525 to $17,600. Contact Remlinger Mfg. Co. Inc., Dept. FIN, Box 299, Kalida, OH 45853, 800/537-7370.

Extend feeder chain life Case IH Axial-flow combine owners can extend feeder chain life and cut noise with Terog's new and improved feeder chain roller kit. The kit, which keeps the chain off the upper and lower wear plates with 4_1/2-in. rollers (formerly 3_1/2 in.) comes complete and ready for installation. Kits also are available for earlier 60 and 80 series Case IH models. Price: $310 for three-strand chain; $232 for two-strand chain. Contact Terog Mfg., Dept. FIN, 387 Atlantic Ave., Stephen, MN 56757, 800/423-3918.

Built to disc Krause adds to its disc harrow lineup by introducing the new 4995 series models that will cut a path from 27 to 35_1/2 ft. wide. The company has beefed up the frame with an average of 470 lbs./ft. of cut to penetrate tough primary tillage conditions or finesse finish a seedbed. It also has added heavier Rock-Flex bearing arms to handle tough obstacles. Other features include SuperSeal greasable gang bearings, 22- or 24-in. blades spaced 8 or 91/8 in. apart, walking tandem system for precise depth control, and a 7-ft.-long, self-leveling hydraulic hitch. Price range: $28,834 to $36,625. Contact Krause Corp., Dept. FIN, Box 2707, Hutchinson, KS 67504, 800/957-2873.

Bust up clods When pulled behind a disc or field cultivator, the Optimizer Pulverizer helps create an ideal seedbed with fewer trips across the field, according to its manufacturer. Its iron wheels interlock at the hub so each section is driven as one gang. Model working widths vary from 10 to 46 ft. with a transport width from 11 to 163/4 ft. Features include a choice of seven types of pulverizer wheels, a telescoping drawbar, single hydraulic circuit to lift and fold, and auto transport lock. Price range: $4,100 to $18,000. Contact Brillion Iron Works Inc., Dept. FIN, Box 127, Brillion, WI 54110, 800/409-9749.

Windrow your rocks If rocks are an annual battle for you, check out the new SRW 1400 pivoting rock windrower from Saskatchewan-based Schulte Industries. This 14-ft.-wide rig not only windrows small to medium rocks for easier pickup, its roto-tilling action breaks up lumps and levels ground. The patented floating drum, which moves rocks using hard-surfaced teeth, is powered by a heavy-duty PTO drive line that features a slip clutch and shear bolts to handle shock loads. It requires 40 to 80 hp to run. Price: $10,900. Contact Schulte Industries Ltd., Dept. FIN, Box 70, Englefeld, Saskatchewan, Canada S0K 1N0, 306/287-3715.

Econo seed checker Dickey-john claims that its Seedu, a new planter and grain drill monitor, is an economical way to upgrade your monitoring system. This compact, easy-to-program unit can monitor 6 rows and 3 hopper sensors on a drill or 12 rows on a planter. One switch toggles through population, speed, area 1 and area 2. A low-flow alarm sounds when individual row units drop below average seed flow by a specified percentage. Price range: $1,700 to $2,300. Contact Dickey-john Corp., Dept. FIN, 5200 Dickey-john Rd., Auburn, IL 62615, 217/438-3371.

Oxygen-free silage Ag-Bag claims that its new smaller G6000 Ag-Bagger offers a low-cost, high-quality feed storage system for all size operations. Even bag compaction is achieved using full width feed deflectors, laser-cut stripper bars and 1-in. teeth. Other features include a cross conveyor, a swivel boom and bag cradle (8-, 9- or 10-ft. bag sizes are available), self-aligning steel cables with Mico disc brakes for optimum feed compaction, and fewer moving parts for less maintenance and repair. Price range: $22,981 to $39,738. Contact Ag-Bag International, Dept. FIN, 2320 S.E. Ag-Bag Lane, Warrenton, OR 97146, 800/334-7432.

Track your grain Carrying up to 975 bu. can weigh heavy on soil, but Killbros is lightening the load with 36-in.-wide tracks on its 1800 dual-auger grain cart. The company claims that the10-ft.-long tracks provide tighter turning for less soil disturbance and improved handling. Features include a 16-in. standard or extra-long auger that reaches 12_1/2 or 14 ft. from the ground, a 12-in. horizontal auger that helps empty the grain in 4_1/2 min., an unloaded weight of 16,840 lbs. and an optional scale package. Price: $48,605. Contact Killbros, Dept. FIN, 24325 St. Rt. 697W, Delphos, OH 45833, 419/695-2060.

Add life to augers To extend the life of worn combine, grain cart or transport auger flighting, Lundell Corporation developed high-wear UHMW plastic to fit over the face of the auger flight. The company plans to offer the plastic in different diameters, pitches and thicknesses and provide it preformed and predrilled. It will include a special plastic-capped bolt to ease on-farm installation. Since production won't begin until summer, a price has not yet been established. Contact Lundell Corp., Dept. FIN, 400 W. Market St., Odebolt, IA 51458, 712/668-2400.

Air seeding Sukup's 30-ft. air seeder offers new openers featuring parallel linkage for more level units and consistent seed depth. Off-set discs and wrenchless down pressure (from 100 to 700 lbs.) and depth adjustments offer improved precision and simplicity. The 96-bu. seed tank has been equipped with improved easy-adjust seed meters to individually meter each row and consistently deliver seed to the drill openers. According to the company, this results in an evenly populated and spaced seedbed. Price: $60,000. Contact Sukup Mfg. Co., Dept. FIN, Box 677, Sheffield, IA 50475, 515/892-4222.

Unique sidesaddle Demco's new SideQuest offers a different twist on a rear-mounted sprayer with side tanks. Extended rear-axle spindle mounts will hold either 350- or 500-gal. tanks on each rear wheel while still delivering excellent front to rear weight distribution. Transport width is 161/3 ft. when straddle duals are set on 120-in. centers. Features include a 60-ft., X-fold hydraulic boom with auto level, shock-spring flotation and hydraulic height adjuster; easy access control panel; easy 3-pt.-mount hookup; TeeJet or Raven sprayer control system; high-volume foam marker; and 55-gal. rinse tank. Price range: $17,000 to $18,000. Contact Demco-Dethmers Mfg. Co., Dept. FIN, Box 189, Boyden, IA 51234, 800/543-3626.

A Hardi sprayer New to the Hardi sprayer lineup is the Navigator 550 M-Falcon. This pull-type rig features a new economical, hydraulic, front-fold Falcon boom - available in 42-, 45- or 50-ft. widths - with patented self-stabilizing SPA suspension with trapeze arms, coil springs and shock absorbers that work together. Other features include high-clearance axle, 550-gal. tank with sight gauge, optional 90-gal. flush system, Hardi diaphragm pumps or Ace and Hypro centrifugal pumps, motorized valve control unit, 4-gal. clean water tank, and non-drip single or optional triple nozzle holders. Price range: $8,200 to $9,400. Contact Hardi Inc., Dept. FIN, 1500 W. 76th St., Davenport, IA 52806, 319/386-1730.

Drill corn too John Deere's new 15- or 20-ft. 1535 Tru-Vee drill combines MaxEmergePlus planter units underneath a 40- or 42-bu.-capacity central fill drill seedbox to plant both 30-in. corn or 15-in. soybeans. Features include adjustable pneumatic or heavy-duty spring down force, finger-pickup meter for corn or radial bean meter for singulating soybeans, ComputerTrak or SeedStar population monitoring and 3-pt. hitch mount or optional caddie cart. Price range: $24,000 to $31,000. Contact John Deere Marketing Center, Dept. FIN, 11145 Thompson Ave., Lenexa, KS 66219, 913/310-8324.

Shop department

Several ratchet wrenches in one The new Pop Prow multi-ratchet wrench, made by Solsons Group in India, works with a self-tightening action that ratchets the wrench as you turn it. Featuring a nonslip grip, two tools allow you to tighten nuts or bolts of 12 different sizes: 1/4, 5/16, 3/8 , 7/16, _1/2, 9/16, 19/32, 5/8, 11/16, 3/4, 13/16 and 7/8 in. Price was not available at press time. Contact Central Purchasing Inc., Dept. FIN, 3491 Mission Oaks Blvd., Camarillo, CA 93010, 805/388-1000.

Pick a grip Milwaukee Electric Tool introduces a great improvement on the circular saw: Now you can move the handle into a position that's right for you.

The Tilt-Lok handle swings through eight positions to give you more control of the saw, especially in awkward places. Other features include a hefty 15-amp motor with 31/4 hp - the highest horsepower available in a 71/4-in. circular saw, according to the maker. The saw weighs only 10 lbs. 4 oz. Suggested retail price: $254. Contact Milwaukee Electric Tool Corp., Dept. FIN, 13135 W. Lisbon Rd., Brookfield, WI 53005, 414/783-8311, www.mil-electric-tool.com.

Saw bit bites through steel Put a hole through just about any hard surface including most steels, glass, concrete and ceramic (and even titanium) with the high-performance Hole Saw Maintenance Kit from Drill Bit City.

The saw bits are like a wide hacksaw blade, welded to form a circle. They may be used with a hand drill or drill press. The bits are made of nitro-carburized steel to handle high drilling temperatures while staying sharp much longer.

The Hole Saw set comes with nine bits ranging in size from 3/4 to 2_1/2 in., three different-size mounting arbors and one 1-ft. extension piece for hand drilling. Suggested list price: $273. Contact Drill Bit City, Dept. FIN, 37567 Hwy. 109, Winnebago, MN 56098, 800/950-3938.