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Articles from 1998 In May

Sizing up grain dryers

Some farmers are shifting from in-bin drying to continuous flow dryers to get more capacity. The trade-off may be grain quality. Manufacturers are striving to give you both. Dryer manufacturers are reporting a renaissance in sales of high-speed, continuous flow dryers. Beard, Delux, Farm Fans, GSI, Mathews and QED all report increases over previous years. In most cases, the increases are significant.

At Beard Industries, sales are up 50% from 1994. "Last year was a peak," says president Bill Beard. "And (sales of continuous flow dryers) will continue to increase as a percentage of new dryers."

Dryer buyers are either switching from drying in a bin or upgrading from a smaller continuous flow dryer. Both types of buyers are looking for the same thing: more capacity. The last surge of dryer sales was in the mid-1970s, and many existing drying systems are 25 years old or older. Since that time, farms have gotten bigger. So has harvesting equipment. Farmers need bigger dryers to keep up.

"It's not uncommon to be taking 16,000 bu./day out of the field," says Dr. Marvin Paulsen, professor of agricultural engineering at the University of Illinois. "You have to do something with that wet grain. So if you are harvesting at those kinds of rates, you steadily move into a higher-temperature, higher-capacity dryer."

As an added push, farmers are entering fields earlier to finish on time. As a result, some grain is being harvested wetter than ever before. Continuous flow dryers can handle moisture levels as high as 25 and 30%. In-bin systems can't handle those moisture levels as easily.

It's in the heat. Two things dry grain: air and heat. The higher the heat, the faster corn dries. Obviously, you can dry grain faster in a dryer than you can in a bin because you are using higher temperatures. How high depends on the dryer and the crop, but 180 degrees to 220 degreesF is typical for corn. Grain is dried in sections or columns to expose all kernels to about the same level of heat. That distribution allows for higher air flows and temperatures.

Compare that to bin drying, where grain is dried in mass anywhere from 6 to 12 ft. deep in a bin, and heat moves in a front from the bottom up. Temperatures range from no heat (natural air-drying) to around 160 degrees depending on the system. Higher temperatures would scorch the bottom layer of grain closest to the heat source.

Continuous flow dryers are categorized according to the direction in which air flows in relation to grain, according to Dr. Bill Wilcke, extension engineer, University of Minnesota. There are four types: crossflow - air blows at a right angle across perforated columns of grain; concurrent flow - air and grain move in the same direction down the columns; counterflow - air blows up the columns opposite the grain; and mixed flow, which incorporates a combination of these air flows.

The vast majority of continuous flow dryers sold in the Midwest are the crossflow type. It also is the kind most grain elevators use. Now it's time to clear up a little confusion. Descriptively, continuous flow dryers that fall under this category have many names. They are called column-type, box, upright, self-contained, free-standing, portable or stationary dryers. Their common denominator is that they dry grain in a column that is completely separate from the grain bin or storage unit. Everyone agrees the proper term to use, in most cases, is high-capacity, continuous flow dryers.

Beard, Delux, Farm Fans, GSI, Mathews, and QED, among others, make a crossflow design. All work on basically the same principle. Gas-fired burners heat the air within the dryer's plenum chamber. High-speed fans force the air at a right angle across columns of grain about a foot thick. The columns reduce airflow resistance and allow for more uniform distribution of heat within the grain as the grain moves through the dryer. "That's one of the reasons you limit column thickness to 12 or 14 inches," Wilcke says. "If the column gets too wide, the moisture and temperature variations across the column get too big. The narrower the column, the smaller those differences are."

The point to keep in mind when buying a continuous flow dryer is that they aren't all the same. You need to know what you are getting because each type has a different minimum and maximum drying temperature range. Run it too hot and you'll damage the grain. The kernel itself should never get much hotter than 140 degrees for milling. Any hotter and it will lose starch extraction value or suffer stress cracks, which could result in a higher number of broken corn and foreign materials (BCFM) at the elevator. "With a concurrent flow dryer, you can turn the drying air temperature up to 300 degrees and the corn never gets that hot," Wilcke says. "But if you tried that with a counterflow dryer, the kernel would reach about 300 degrees. So if 140 degrees is your magic kernel temperature, that helps you figure out how high you can set the temperature on that dryer."

The temperature you choose within that range will depend on your goals. For maximum capacity, set it for the recommended maximum, Wilcke says. For maximum grain quality, set it for the minimum within that range.

Manufacturers of continuous flow dryers have made major improvements to boost grain quality while maintaining capacity in the past five to 10 years. These include: Automated controls. With modern continuous flow dryers, loading and unloading are fully automated. Once you set the drying temperature and target moisture level of the grain, you can basically walk away. With older models, you had to periodically check moisture content as grain was being dried and manually adjust the speed of the metering rolls that control the flow rate through the dryer, according to Dr. Charles Hurburgh, extension agricultural engineer, Iowa State University. "Now, moisture sensors automatically estimate the moisture content, and a computer makes those adjustments on the fly." The wetter the grain, the slower it moves through the dryer. The end result is less baby-sitting and pinpoint accuracy of final moisture. Many modern dryers feature this level of automation. For example, GSI's new software called Watchdog lets you monitor moisture, temperature and dryer status from your office computer. Data are transferred through your telephone line. If the dryer shuts down, an alert appears on your computer screen.

Better airflows. Improved air flows allow for lower drying temperatures. Today's crossflow dryers have bigger fans, larger drying chambers and "grain turners," which turn grain as it moves down the column to distribute heat more uniformly. Before, when grain fell straight down the column, the side closest to the heat source would get hotter than the opposite side because the air comes from one direction across the column. "A grain turner takes grain on the inside of the column closest to the flame and inverts it, or puts it on the outside, and mixes it around," Hurburgh says. "That way you don't have some grain on the inside getting very dry and some grain on the outside not so dry."

Better energy efficiency. Much of the heat generated by earlier-model dryers was lost to the atmosphere. Modern designs recapture and recycle that exhaust to improve energy efficiency and lower fuel costs.

Should you switch? The decision to switch from in-bin drying to a high-temperature self-contained dryer basically comes down to capacity. How many bushels per year do you need to dry?

"As far as a magic crossover number, there isn't any," says University of Illinois' Paulsen. But he says on average, when farmers produce more than 100,000 bu./year, they start to consider continuous flow dryers.

Where you farm can also dictate drying method. For instance, Paulsen says in his state of Illinois, natural air and low-temperature in-bin drying is common. In Michigan, almost all systems are continuous flow because of higher moisture and shorter growing season. "Farmers in Iowa often are done harvesting before Michigan farmers have even started," says Dr. Fred Bakker-Arkema, professor of agricultural engineering at Michigan State University. "So we must turn it around much faster and at a higher moisture content." As a rule, the further north you are, the more you rely on heated air drying.

Another consideration is cost. Continuous flow dryers cost more than a drying bin. The dryer itself may run as high as $100,000. To know whether you can justify it, divide the total annual cost by the number of bushels per year you plan to dry, advises Minnesota's Wilcke. That will give you a cost per bushel. Do the same for your current system for comparison.

When buying a continuous flow dryer, you'll need to specify whether you want a heat-and-cool or an all-heat model. The former not only dries the grain but cools it once it is dried in a second chamber within the dryer. An all-heat unit dries only and requires that you dump the grain hot into a grain bin with a perforated floor and a fan for cooling. Heat-and-cool units cost more but are less hassle. All-heat units, although more work, give you almost double the capacity because you are tying up less dryer time by transferring the grain out of the dryer sooner to make room for more wet grain.

Alan Brutlag, a farmer near Wendell, MN, converted an old heat-and-cool Butler-Kan-Sun dryer to an all-heat unit to increase drying capacity. He stopped the dryer from cooling by tinning the inside of the cooling chamber. By adding a full dryer floor, a 12-hp axial flow fan and power sweep, he converted a standard 12,000-bu. bin into a wet holding bin. He now uses the dryer to dry corn down to 18 to 20% moisture, after which he dumps it hot into a lineup of six 10,000-bu. bins with full floors and 10-hp axial flow fans. There, he lets it steep at 125 degreesF for six to 12 hrs. Afterward, he turns on the fans to cool it to outside air temperature. For every 10 degrees of cooling, he removes .25 pints of moisture for a total of 21/2 pints. Any moisture beyond that is removed by natural air drying. "Because of combination drying, I am able to unload grain from the dryer at 18% moisture instead of 15% and increase my capacity from 400 bu./hr. up to 1,000 bu./hr.," Brutlag says.

He had to add an oil cooling system to the gearbox to keep it from overheating. "At the end of the season the corn is drier, and I finish off by using the wet holding bin to natural air dry the last bushels of corn."

Depending on your current system, a continuous flow dryer might require additional storage and handling equipment than what you're using now. Basically what you'll need are a wet holding bin to hold grain awaiting drying, bins with false floors for cooling or storage, and conveyors to transfer the grain to and away from the dryer. Bins previously used for drying can be converted to storage or wet holding bins. Wilcke knows of farmers who are converting 10,000-bu. storage bins for wet holding. "A few years ago, people would have thought that size was ridiculous. But these days, I don't think that's out of line."

Size to fit. To know what size continuous flow dryer you need, estimate how many bushels per day you will harvest and how many hours you want to run the dryer in a given day, says Richard Zinke, general sales manager with Mathews. For example, if you are going to harvest 15,000 bu./day and you run the dryer 24 hrs./day, then divide the 15,000 by 24 which gives you a capacity of 625 bu./hr.

Most continuous flow dryers used on farms have capacities anywhere from 100 bu./hr. up to 1,000 bu./hr., depending on initial moisture content. Some continuous flow dryers can be stacked one on top of another to double or triple capacity.

The highest-capacity continuous flow dryers are called tower dryers. These dryers have grain columns more than 30 ft. high to achieve the capacities required by commercial elevators. As farms get bigger, farmers may need the same capacity. "A lot of farmers in certain areas have crossed into that small commercial level on their farm," says Don Nicol, vice president of drying systems, GSI. "So now we are seeing tower dryers sold on farms."

Most manufacturers of continuous flow dryers make a tower dryer. GSI claims to make the largest in the industry at 10,000 bu./hr. Some market them under different names. For example, Farm Fans markets its tower dryers under the Zimmerman name, and Mathews markets its tower dryers under the Kan-Sun name, formerly owned by Butler.

Tower manufacturers that before sold only to commercial elevators are now finding a niche with large farms. Examples include Delux Manufacturing out of Kearney, NE, which makes both stacked and tower continuous flow dryers, and QED Dryer Sales out of Rockford, IL, maker of modular tower dryers (circle 224). "We fit well with the young farmer who is operating a few thousand acres," says Steve Morreim, president of QED. "Our dryers are modular so we can expand them in hours."

Steve Schultz, sales manager with Delux, says that farmers start to look at tower dryers when the farm size approaches 10,000 acres and need drying capacities of 2,000 bu./hr. and up. The size of your farmstead may also dictate need. "If you are filling with a leg system and have limited ground space, a tower may be your only option," he says. "You need to build up versus out."

Corn+Soybean Digest

USDA's Bean Acreage Prediction Could Grow Even Larger

USDA's prediction of a bigger soybean acreage than last year's whopper wasn't a big surprise.

But the March Planting Intentions Report had many traders scratching their heads and asking, "Where did all the total crop acres go?"

The confusion over that question was one of the factors that pressed corn and soybean prices lower during the first 10 trading days in April.

As the figures show (see printed article), total planted acreage would be 3.65 million lower in 1998 than U.S. farmers planted in 1997. Considering that 2 million acres are scheduled to come out of CRP this year, most traders had expected a planted acreage figure of 268-270 million.

We have heard several explanations and new projections for where planted acreage will end up.

First is the thought that much of the CRP land will stay in hay or pasture this year as new-crop prices dropped lower into the planting season. Some CRP landowners may be satisfied to take less income by renting out the land as pasture.

Second is that many wheat growers in Western states may use more summer fallow acres than they have since the early 1970s. One customer told me he may be better off to preserve moisture and reduce operating expenses than bet on the outcome with current new-crop prices.

Third is the projection that USDA's June report will show additional corn and soybean acres.

All the scenarios will likely develop to a degree.

Table 2 shows the NorthStar Soybean Acreage Analysis since 1989. Note that, in seven of the last nine years, the June survey has suggested more planted soybean acres than did the March Planting Intentions Report. The average increase from March to June has been 1.75%. That suggests 73.2 million acres of planted soybeans in 1998 - a 1.6% increase from last year and a new record.

Whether the final acreage will be 71 million, 73 million or somewhere in between, will be determined by spring weather. A late, wet spring like in '92 could shift even more acres to soybeans, while an early spring would likely increase spring wheat and corn acres at the expense of soybeans.

What to do: At NorthStar, our time-cycle analysis suggests a major change in trend the week ending May 15 or July 31.

If the bean market rallies into the week ending May 15, consider making more old-crop sales. If the market drops sharply into that week, wait with any cash or new-crop sales until mid- to late June.

USDA will release its first Crop Production Report May 12, and its Planted Acreage and Grain Stocks Reports June 30. All will be transmitted at 7:30 a.m. CDT. Our complete analysis and recommendations will be available at 8:30 on our Web site at

Corn+Soybean Digest

Don't Count On Preharvest Rally

It may seem silly to be talking about fall '98 prices in May. But the long-term price outlook should be considered when determining how aggressive to be with your forward contracting program.

Over the last three or four years, it was prudent to hold a portion of old-crop soybeans right up to the start of the new-crop harvest. Domestic usage and export demand for U.S. beans have remained strong enough, long enough, to reward stingy bean sellers deep in the marketing year.

Perhaps the most important factor, however, has been dwindling supplies of South American soybeans in the late-July-through-August period. The tightening global supply picture has resulted in at least a significant basis rally - enough to pay for months of storage.

This year will likely be a different story. Yes, tightening domestic supplies will limit heavy summer price pressure on beans, but the export market probably won't contribute to what has become a new seasonal rally.

The reason is fairly simple - Brazil will have beans left when combines start rolling in the Midwest this fall.

Rainy weather through March and early April was the primary reason for Brazil's sluggish start to the export season. When rain is falling (even just a mist), the hatches of the cargo ships are closed and loading comes to a halt. The rainy description is different than many would have given Brazil at that time. But El Nino-inspired coastal rains kept Brazil's largest bean export port (the Port of Paranagua) soggy while first-half-harvest beans found their way to port.

Despite the snail-paced loadings that were at only about half the pace seen in 1997 for beans and meal, inventories at the port were not huge. Slow movement from the field to the port also slowed bean and soybean meal loadings.

Overall, Brazilian bean producers were simply not willing to sell. The hope for higher prices was the reason. In early April, harvest was about one-third complete in Rio Grande and Parana and cash bean prices had fallen to $5.50-5.90/bu. But the trend was down and was not expected to change until harvest was complete.

Further inland in Mato Grosso, bean harvest was nearly three-quarters complete in early April and prices had dropped to $4.20/bu.

Producers were in the storage mode, despite the fact that few have storage to hold much of their crop - much less maintain its quality in storage. Their attitude was that prices would recover.

Merchandisers in Rio Grande and Parana saw the price action in Mato Grosso as a sign of things to come. As a result, they refused to risk buying high $5 beans when low $4 beans were a possibility as harvest progressed.

Brazil normally sells soybean meal and oil in the export market year-round. That's why the country has become an excellent market for U.S. beans. That will likely change for the 1997-98 marketing year. The slow loadings pace and producers' reluctance to sell at low prices will likely keep enough of Brazil's beans at home long enough to keep its crushing facilities running on domestic supplies after 1998-crop U.S. beans are available.

Bottom line: Brazil won't likely import any significant tonnage of U.S. soybeans this year. That alone means slower-than-expected export demand in the last quarter of the marketing year. Also, with Brazil able to supply meal, oil and soybeans as the U.S. new-crop comes on line, export demand for our new-crop beans won't be as fast and furious as in the last few years.

So don't count on a late-season/preharvest bean rally to give another chance to finish up old-crop bean sales or to get aggressive with new-crop forward contracting. That means you must take advantage of mid-summer weather rallies to make those sales. Unfortunately, you'll have to make them when it's most difficult to sell (see our April Bottom Line, page 38, for background).

However, there is a silver lining to this dark cloud over the bean market. After several years of encouragement from the market to grow beans, Brazilian producers are getting more typical harvest prices. That will slow Brazilian acreage expansion.

Corn+Soybean Digest

New Century May Bring Higher Crop Prices

Look for higher prices, expanded acreage and increased export demand for corn and soybeans over the next 10 years.

That's what USDA foresees in its recently published long-term commodity projections. The forecasts cover 1997 through 2007.

According to USDA, corn prices should bottom out at $2.55/bu in '99 and then strengthen to $3.10 by 2007, as tightening market conditions push the stocks-to-use ratio to under 6%.

The average soybean farm price is expected to rise to $7.25/bu by the end of the 10-year period. That's after a low of $5.65 projected for 1999-2000.

Corn acreage should reach 84.5 million by 2007, slightly higher than peak levels during the mid-1970s and early 1980s export boom. Soybean acreage should stay steady at around 70 million through 2007. But both crops are expected to further expand in the fringe Corn Belt areas of the South and Plains states.

USDA projects corn yields to increase 1.7 bu/acre/year, although weather is a weighing factor. Soybean yields should trend up at 0.5 bu/acre annually over the next 10 years. That means the nationwide average yield will increase from 39.4 to 44 bu/acre.

Annual corn production, now a little over 9 billion bushels, will grow steadily, hit a new record after 2002 and surpass 11 billion bushels by 2005. Soybean production will move from its current 2.7 billion bushels to just over 3 billion.

Total corn demand should grow sharply throughout the period. Feed and residual corn uses are expected to increase 550 million bushels, with the largest gains in the earlier years of the 1997-2007 period.

Annual corn exports may increase 1.1 billion bushels, matching the previous record high of 2.4 billion bushels in 2000 and surpassing 3 billion by 2007. That's assuming the U.S. stays the major corn supplier - and that China becomes a major importer.

Food, seed and industrial corn use should grow by 425 million bushels over the 10-year period. Corn used for ethanol should sharply rebound and exceed the '94 peak use by 2000, then expand at a somewhat slower pace.

A rising foreign demand for soybeans will produce an upward trend in U.S. soybean exports, from the current 980 million bushels to 1.1 billion by the 2007-08 marketing year. Increasingly tight supplies and rising prices will slow the annual growth, however.

Soybean oil prices should stay flat for the next four years at around 24.5 cents/lb. Solid foreign demand should pull U.S. oil exports up to 3 billion pounds by 2001-02. Oil prices may climb to about 27 cents/lb by 2007-08, which could restrict exports.

Soybean meal prices will push down in the near term, but will firm as soybean supplies tighten through 2007-08. U.S. soybean meal exports may peak in 1999-2000, but will stay relatively flat afterward because of South American competition.

Ending corn stocks should climb above 1 billion bushels over the next few years but, by 2007, end at less than 700 million.

Soybean ending stocks will also drop by 2007 - 205 million bushels compared to the current 255 million.

Corn+Soybean Digest

Twisters Hit Minnesota Farms

Some southern Minnesota farmers walked their soybean fields early this year. And they had a lot of help.

Tornadoes ripped through six counties the evening of March 29, destroying farm homes and other buildings and leaving fields littered with debris.

Volunteers from neighboring communities and states arrived in mid-April to help clean up fields so farmers could start planting. They picked up pieces of tin that were once grain bins and machine sheds, wood from homes, tree branches, etc.

Some days, more than 1,000 volunteers worked in field cleanup crews.

It was only the seventh time tornadoes have been reported in Minnesota in March. The biggest twister was one of the worst in the state's history. About 1.25 miles wide, it killed two people and nearly destroyed the small town of Comfrey.

It also did serious damage in St. Peter, about 60 miles away, and many farmsteads between the two towns were nearly demolished.

The tornado was estimated to be at least an F-3 with 158-260 mph winds.

USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA) in St. Paul, MN, estimates agricultural loss from the storms at more than $48 million. Damage is assessed at $27.6 million to farm dwellings, $10.5 million to farm structures, $9.6 million to farm machinery and equipment, and $644,000 in dead or injured cattle and hogs.

More than 440 farms had storm damage. The hardest-hit county was Brown, with $28 million in agricultural losses on 171 farms. The path of destruction in that county was 1.5 miles wide and 30 miles long.

The affected counties were declared a disaster area by President Clinton, so low-interest loans are available.

Corn+Soybean Digest

Automated Wet-Holding Door Simplifies Drying

Paul Corzine greatly improved his grain drying system by adding an electrically controlled slide gate under his wet holding bin.

"With this system in place, we no longer have to baby-sit the Top Dry dryer," says Corzine, of Assumption, IL.

Previously, Corzine had to manually control the slide gate. This gate, on the underside of the wet-holding bin, had a rack-and-pinion gear for hand operation.

He adapted a Grainger 3-N169 forward and reverse gear and motor to automatically open and close the slide gate. When the dryer calls for grain, a rotary switch activates the slide gate and the grain auger. The 8 inch-diameter, 72 foot-long auger then delivers wet grain to the top of the Top Dry bin.

When the dryer is full, the slide gate closes and the auger runs another 25 seconds to empty itself.

The Grainger gear and motor is powerful and turns slowly - as slow as 16 rpm.

Toggle switches were installed on the slide gate to stop the gear when the gate is open and when it's closed. Finally, a switch shuts off the motor when drying is finished for the day.

When corn goes into the dryer at 22-24% moisture, Corzine can dry 2,000 bu/hour.

Grain Systems International (GSI), Assumption, helped Corzine set up the system. More information is available from Jeff Decker at GSI. Phone: 217-226-4421.

Corn+Soybean Digest

Proper Application Minimizes Drift, Data Shows

If you apply pesticides correctly, only a tenth of 1% of the chemical should drift.

So confirm ground application studies coordinated by the Spray Drift Task Force (SDTF), a consortium of 38 ag chemical firms.

The SDTF was established in 1990 after EPA ruled that the 2,000 existing and any future products would need spray drift data to become registered.

"One of the things we've proved is that what you're spraying only has a relatively small effect on drift," says David Johnson. Johnson is director of Stewart Agricultural Research Services, the firm hired to manage data generation.

The studies' goal was to determine how much chemical drifts from ground and aerial applications and from chemigation.

The collected data will help develop computer models that EPA can use to estimate drift. The models are being jointly developed by EPA, SDTF and USDA.

The most extensive research, Johnson points out, has been done on aerial application. An aerial-drift computer model is nearlycomplete.

Ground application research was not as in depth, he says.

"How you set up your sprayer is not as important in ground application as in aerial. The drift is very low from ground."

In fact, in a typical full-field ground application, more than 99.9% of the applied active ingredient stays on the field.

A typical application? A 1,200 foot- wide, 20-swath field, using 8004 flat fan nozzles at 40 psi, 20" nozzle height and 10-mph crosswind.

The task force recommends ways to minimize ground drift:

* Apply the coarsest droplet- size spectrum that gives enough coverage and pest control.

* Use the lowest nozzle height that gives uniform coverage.

* Apply pesticides when wind speeds are low and blowing away from sensitive areas.

Chemigation drift potential is also very low. High-pressure irrigation systems cause more drift than low-pressure systems; they release droplets higher.

Adding an end gun to a high-pressure system doesn't affect drift much. But adding one to a low-pressure system substantially increases drift when droplets are released at 12 foot.

Despite SDTF findings, Bob Wolf, University of Illinois ag engineer, believes farmers should still be concerned about drift from ground sprayers.

"Even if it's a very low percentage, when drift occurs, it has the potential to cause problems," states Wolf. "It's important to make sound application decisions to minimize drift so crop protection products won't be lost through regulation."

For more information or copies of study results, contact David Johnson or Andrew Hewitt, Stewart Agricultural Research Services, Inc., P.O. Box 509, Macon, MO 63552. Phone: 660-762-4240.

Corn+Soybean Digest

A New-Uses Promotion Of Olympic Proportions

A KFC franchise in Nagano, Japan, may seem an unlikely place for U.S. farmers to launch a new-uses project. But, during the 1998 Winter Games, an Olympic Village eatery turned out to be an ideal spot.

"Media covering the Olympics were lodging not far from the KFC food stand, which happened to be about the only food stand in that area. So we had a captive audience," says American Soybean Association (ASA) Japan director Kent Nelson.

Specifically, the Olympic Village KFC served as center stage for the launch of ECO 2000, a project Nelson describes as an "environmentally driven, profitably sound local solution to global pollution."

The project is being coordinated by ASA, the U.S. Grains Council and the U.S. Foreign Ag Service. Their goal: to have at least one new corn or soy-based product in use at more than 2,000 restaurants in Japan by the year 2000.

"During the rollout, the KFC had to be closed for two hours to fit in all of the press and participants while we showcased the products," Nelson reports.

Participants included Japanese industry leaders, U.S. Ambassador Tom Foley, members of the International Olympic Committee and actor Kevin Costner. Costner has invested $20 million in a surface oil spill recovery system but needs ASA's land-based biodiesel system to clean shores.

"Biodiesel, which is now being manufactured at a new plant here, is one of our primary targets," says Nelson.

"Biodiesel is produced from waste cooking oil obtained from french fry vats and tempura shops. It's used to power buses and trucks, generate electricity and run heating and air conditioning units at the KFC store and other locations."

In addition to biodiesel, ECO 2000 leaders are promoting to restaurants the use of biodegradable corn plastics in utensils, cups, straws, bags and even clothes. Soybeans are featured in such uses as crayons and soy-based ink for printing place mats.

"ECO 2000 would not have been possible without seed money from the United Soybean Board four years ago and the vision of Solchiro Yoshida," Nelson explains. "With our help, Mr. Yoshida has taken biodiesel from concept to reality in Japan."

Yoshida heads a Japanese business conglomerate that owns KFC franchises as well as a chain of gas stations.

"Now that biodiesel is in the marketplace, we hope to see at least 200,000 metric tons of biodiesel (from the equivalent of 40 million bushels of soybeans) produced annually five years from now in Japan," says Nelson. "This is not a pie-in-the-sky goal. We feel it is very realistic and very attainable."

Rising demand for biodiesel and other new soy-based products will lead to growth in U.S. soybean sales to Japan.

"Many uses not only fit societal needs for more environmentally positive merits, they do so at or below the cost of currently utilized products," he says. "New uses will someday be a very significant portion of U.S. soybean exports to Japan - as much as 1 or 2 million metric tons in 10 to 20 years."

Corn+Soybean Digest

Watch El Nino For Marketing Cues

You've probably heard and read all you want to know about El Nino and the coming La Nina.

But listen up.

Elwynn Taylor, an Iowa State University meteorologist, says El Nino and its ultimate demise must be considered in your 1998 grain marketing plan.

"Exactly when El Nino begins to fade out and La Nina sets in will determine whether we have a drought or a bumper crop this year in the Midwest," says Taylor.

He's been preaching since early in the year that the earlier the warm waters of the eastern Pacific Ocean (El Nino) turn cool (La Nina), the greater the chance for drought.

"Historical data suggests this will be the case," he says.

Late in March, the National Weather Service projected that El Nino would fade away about the first of May. But by early April it appeared more likely to last through June.

"That's good news if you're looking for high yields," Taylor says. "We went into spring with soil moisture near field capacity throughout much of the Corn Belt. That means we already had nearly a third of the moisture we'd need for a normal crop."

Taylor says that, if El Nino faded away by May 1 and a strong La Nina developed, history suggests a 30% chance of below-average corn yields. The same data also suggests a 57% chance of an average crop.

However, if El Nino is still in place through June, Taylor's analysis suggests a 36% chance of higher-than-average yields, a 56% chance of average yields, and only an 8% chance of below-average yields due to drought.

"Based on what we've seen in the past, it would take a few weeks for hot, dry weather to develop, and we'd be past corn pollination in most of the Corn Belt."

If El Nino lasts that long, record corn yields are a strong possibility, especially in the central and western Corn Belt, believes Taylor.

"If El Nino hangs on through June and into July, historical data suggest western Corn Belt harvest prices could drop below $2 for corn and below $5.65 for soybeans," says Bob Wisner, an Iowa State University extension ag economist.

An earlier fade-out could be a precursor to a hot, dry period at corn pollination, cutting into yields but holding up prices.

"If El Nino fades out by the first of June, we're looking at a 25% possibility of below-average yields and corn prices going up to $3.50 or higher," Wisner reports.

He recommends this early marketing strategy:

"Weather uncertainty favors purchases of put options or minimum price contracts for corn," Wisner advises. "For soybeans, hedge or forward contract, and then re-own the beans with out-of-the-money calls until you have a clearer reading on summer weather.

"I hesitate to recommend hedging or contracting. With these two tools, a short crop on your farm could result in large margin calls or buy-back costs if too little grain is produced to offset contracts."

The bottom line, it seems, is to watch for a lot of weather-driven price fluctuation. Whenever the market offers a reasonable profit, sell a portion of your crop using futures or options contracts or minimum-price contracts at your local elevator.

At the same time, be cautious about the overall quantity booked until the size of your own crop is more obvious.

Corn+Soybean Digest

K Deficiency Fuels Leafspot Diseases

If your cotton develops leafspot, don't blame the resulting yield loss just on the disease. Potassium deficiency is the major culprit.

One solution: Foliar-applied fungicides - if potassium (K) deficiency is detected by the fourth week of bloom, says Glen Harris, University of Georgia extension agronomist.

Potassium adds strength to leaf cells. The lack of it makes plants susceptible to fungal infections such as leafspot. And leafspot diseases have been more frequent, more severe and have appeared much earlier in the growing season over the past few years, says Harris.

"In some cases, cotton was totally defoliated soon after the fourth week of bloom.

"If K deficiency is detected around the fourth week of bloom and is not severe, foliar K sprays may increase yields."

But if severe K deficiency occurs late, around the sixth week of bloom, foliar applications won't help, Harris adds.

Leafspot is caused by a variety of fungi. Cercospora and alternaria are the most common, but stemphylium is spreading. Harris estimates that 2,000 acres of Georgia cotton were infected by stemphylium in 1995. By 1996, 20,000 acres were infected.

Leafspot usually is considered a secondary factor in yield loss, says Harris.

"In almost every case where leafspot was a factor in yield loss, low soil K, low plant tissue K and/or low petiole K were present.

"Most of the time, K deficiency was discovered on full-season varieties under irrigation around the fourth week of bloom with heavy fruit set."

That's when there's a heavy demand for K, he explains. Cotton roots begin to decline because they're competing with developing bolls for carbohydrates and can't take up soil K.

University of Tennessee researchers studied both soil and foliar K applications on cotton in conventional and no-till systems, says agronomist Don Howard.

Yields from both tillage systems were increased by soil-applied K, he says. But foliar K brought a better response in no-till than in conventional.

Howard's conclusion: applying K to the soil or leaves can reduce leafspot severity.

If you've experienced leafspot defoliation, consider these management practices this year or next:

1) Soil test and keep K levels in the medium-to-high range.

2) On sandy soils, apply half the K at planting and half at sidedressing or first square.

3) Test petioles. Even when soil K levels are medium to high, foliar applications can increase yields in certain situations. A complete petiole test can detect the need for foliar K two weeks before leafspot symptoms appear.

4) Use in-furrow fungicides to reduce root rots and seedling diseases, making root systems healthier for K uptake.