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Articles from 2009 In June

Heavier Semis: A Good Idea?

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The Soybean Transportation Coalition (STC) decided to commission a study to determine the benefits of heavier weight limits on interstate highways. STC graciously shared the results with Farm Futures.

Since 1975 the interstate highway system has limited truck loads to 80,000 lbs. (gross vehicle weight). The study took a look at moving that figure up to 97,000 lbs.

A 97,000-lb. semi would accommodate 183 additional bushels of soybeans per truck load. Grain farmers could expect $1.2 million fuel savings when diesel prices are $2 per gallon and $2.5 million in savings when diesel is $4 per gallon. The reduced number of deliveries could result in farmers gaining an entire day of productivity if semi weight limits are increased.

Heavier weight limits make sense as the country's infrastructure continues to get worn down. How could heavier trucks help our crumbling highways? Larger loads mean fewer trips.

The U.S. Department of Transportation projects the volume of freight demand by all modes of transportation (air, truck, rail, and water) to increase from 21.2 billion tons in 2007 to more than 37.2 billion tons in 2035, a 75% increase.

The STC analysis highlights five independent projections for the future growth of freight movement across the four major modes (truck, rail, water, and air). Most freight — including agricultural products — is transported via truck, rail, and water. 

After air shipping, which is usually high value stuff, demand for trucking is consistently projected to grow the most. Truck volumes are expected to increase from 12.9 billion tons in 2007 to 22.8 billion tons in 2035, a 77% increase. Currently the intensity of truck freight volume is 10,500 trucks per day per mile.  By 2035, use intensity will increase to 22,700 trucks per day per mile with the most heavily used portions of the system handling up to 50,000 trucks per day per mile.

What are the potential savings by allowing 97,000-lb. semis over our nation's highways and interstates?

The analysis reveals that adopting a 97,000-lb. weight threshold will annually save approximately 16.9 million trips, reduce miles driven by 2.7 billion, and save 221 million gallons of diesel fuel by 2020.

That sounds like a slam dunk in favor of higher weight limits. But that's not the case says STC Executive Director Mike Steenhoek (below).

"Those living in rural areas often experience a greater probability of encountering heavy semis — and the dangers they can pose — than those living in urban areas,•bCrLf he says. "Farmers are potential beneficiaries and victims of greater weight limits of semis. The last thing farmers would want to endorse is a system that portends greater danger to themselves and their families and greater damage to the transportation system they depend on. Before the soybean industry endorses such a course of action, further analysis is merited.•bCrLf  

Motorist safety So what would happen to safety if truck loads increased?

Since 1980, the miles of public roadways have increased by only 4.5%. Over the past 20 years, the number of fatalities from large truck crashes is down more than 50%, from 4.38 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in 1987 to 2.15 in 2007. The number of injuries involved in large truck crashes decreased nearly 56%, from 86.2 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in 1987 to 38.1 in 2007.

"The choice confronting us is not simply between heavier or lighter semis,•bCrLf says Steenhoek. "If that were so, most of us would choose lighter semis. The choice confronting us is between a less dense highway and interstate system with semis up to 97,000 lbs., vs. a more congested system with semis up to 80,000 lbs.•bCrLf

A 2006 Virginia Tech study found that 78% of car-truck accidents were initiated by cars. Given this reality, the number of semis, rather than weight, becomes an increasingly important factor in ensuring the safety of fellow motorists.   

Research suggests that motorist safety on our nation's roads and interstates is more of a function of the number of semis rather than the weight of the semis themselves. The analysis contained in the STC report substantiates the argument that increasing truck weight limits to 97,000 lbs would result in a safer system by reducing the number of truck miles required to transport any given amount of freight. 

Why not rail? Turns out it's not a simple question. The rail industry is becoming less of an interchangeable mode of transportation with trucking. Railroads are increasingly adopting a business model premised on limited points of origin, limited points of destination, and longer trains that serve those locations. Since 1980, the mileage in the nation's railway system has declined by almost 23%. This requires shippers, particularly those in rural America, to truck commodities or products over greater distances to acquire rail service. 

Ironically, in many parts of the country, the rail industry, in pursuing its current business model, is diverting more freight movement onto roads, bridges, and highways. 

Farm products are harvested in geographically dispersed regions and often are shipped distances less than a few hundred miles. Trucks are often the only viable shipping method to accommodate these movements. 

Crumbling roads Would heavier loads wreck our already crumbling highways? Not really. Research indicates that a 6-axle, 97,000-lb. configuration would cause the same or less damage to the road system as a 5-axle, 80,000-lb semi. The additional axle displaces the increased weight to negate any potential damage to the road itself.

Stress on bridges is more sensitive to the spread of axles than to the number of axles.  Research has shown that stress to bridges depends more on the truck's total load than the number of axles.  Studies show that bridges built since the late 1970s are able to accommodate heavier trucks. However, only 37% of current U.S. bridges were built after 1979. 

 The Soy Transportation Coalition (STC) study, "Heavier Semis: A Good Idea?•bCrLf can be accessed at the STC's website: 




Wheat Head Armyworm Wheat Pest Under Close Scrutiny

Wheat Head Armyworm Wheat Pest Under Close Scrutiny

Since the wheat head armyworm was first found near Davenport, Wash., researchers have been monitoring traps for the barley and wheat pest.

"To date, there have been few Farronta diffusa moths in traps," reports Washington State University Extension Educator Diana Roberts. However, a native species in the same genus has shown up in relatively high numbers, she adds.

Those finds are in areas where damage occurred in the last two years.

"We do not know if Farronta terrapictalis (the native species) is responsible for any of the damage attributed to Farronta diffusa, or whether  its larvae even feed on cereal grains," says Roberts.

Concern with the pest is high. First identified in the area in 2007, the diffusa moth was blamed for grain damage between Reardan and Davenport, Wash. A similar infestation was reported in the Helix area of Umatilla County, Ore.

Last year, about 10,000 acres of grain in Lincoln County, Wash., was sprayed to control the insect. A hard frost on July 10 last year reduced populations in unsprayed WSU variety test plots, but the yield loss in the plots was estimated at about 35%.

Extension recommendations urged growers in high moth count areas to scout for larvae in June.

"We do not have scientifically-tested WHA economic thresholds and we are not recommending that growers spray at the first sign of the insect," says Roberts.

No pesticides are registered specifically WHA, but chemicals labeled for wheat may be used, she notes. "Last year, pyrethroids worked well, especially if they have residual activity," she says, adding that this is an are not researched.

For more information on monitoring for the pest, including an insect description, Roberts may be reached at (509) 477-2167, or e-mailed at

Beneficial Beetle Being Tracked

Beneficial Beetle Being Tracked

The lady beetle, with its shiny, round red body and black spots, is one of the most recognizable in the insect world – celebrated as a beneficial predator. But native lady beetle populations are rapidly declining throughout the Midwest, and an Ohio State University entomologist wants to know where the insect stands in Ohio.

Through a citizen-science program, known as the Buckeye Lady Beetle Blitz, Mary Gardiner is collecting data about native and introduced lady beetles. With the help of 180 volunteers throughout Ohio, Gardiner hopes to identify lady beetle species, track lady beetle populations, determine whether native species are in decline and, if so, why.

"I'd like to know how abundant the exotic and native lady beetle species are in Ohio. Studies have shown that native populations are in decline throughout the Midwest and Northeast. Is it due to competition from or predation by exotic lady beetle species? Is it related to landscape changes or changes in pesticide use?" says Gardiner, an assistant professor in agricultural landscape ecology with the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. "If we can get a handle on the current state of lady beetle populations, it would open the doors for conservation programs to attempt to maintain and enhance their abundance in agricultural landscapes."

Ohio is home to several exotic and native lady beetle species. Of the introduced species, the best known is the multi-colored Asian lady beetle, which is notorious for congregating in large numbers in homes during winter and can be a nuisance. Other exotic lady beetles include the variegated, seven-spotted and fourteen-spotted, all of which are common throughout Ohio.

Ohio's native lady beetle populations are more numerous, varying widely in body shape, color and number of spots. The study is focusing on 10 species. The most common are convergent (an oval-shaped, red beetle with up to 12 spots), and polished (a round, red or orange beetle absent of spots).

Two other common species include pink and parenthesis, but most of Ohio's native lady beetles are hard to spot. Some of the more rare species include thirteen-spotted, two-spotted, three-banded (a round red beetle with black bars), twice-stabbed (a round, black beetle with two central red spots), orange-spotted (an oval, black beetle with 10 orange spots) and the exceedingly rare nine-spotted.

So much effort is being put into conserving lady beetles because they are beneficial insects that will feast on soft-bodied crop and garden pests, such as aphids, and other pests in the landscape. For example, the lady beetle has been credited with reducing soybean aphid populations, allowing growers to reduce pesticide applications.
Gardiner will conduct the study again next year. Anyone interested in participating in the study for next year can contact Mary Gardiner for more information at (330) 263-3643 or e-mail Volunteers will be required to attend training sessions, which will begin in February 2010. These training sessions will be posted in advance on the project's Web site:

New Census Data for Watersheds Available

New Census Data for Watersheds Available

Information from the 2007 Census of Agriculture is now available at the watershed level, according to Joe Parsons, director of USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service, Nebraska Field Office.

Selected data from the 2007 Census of Agriculture were summarized according to watershed boundaries set by the U.S. Geological Survey. Watershed information from the 2002 Census of Agriculture is published alongside the 2007 Census results to demonstrate changes in land use, production practices, and livestock distribution over the past five years.

Information from the 2007 Census of Agriculture is also available for American Indian reservations, including reservation-level information on agricultural production, economics, and demographics for individual farms.

"Once again, we would like to thank Nebraska's farmers and ranchers for doing their part in providing this useful information," says Parsons. "The Census of Agriculture provides the only source of uniform, comprehensive agricultural data for every state and county in the nation."

For more information about the Census of Agriculture and to access the Watershed and American Indian Reservation publications, go to or call (800) 582-6443.

Got Hot Hay?

Got Hot Hay?

Some barns in Pennsylvania got a whole lot warmer than expected in recent weeks. The combination of wetter than normal hay and warm summer weather sparked a rash of barn fires cause by hot hay igniting via spontaneous combustion, reports Davis Hill, Penn State Extension's director of Agricultural Emergencies program.

By baling hay wetter than normal to escape a forecasted rain, you take a chance, says Hill. Field-dried to 20% moisture or less, baled hay can cure properly. But some have had to bale at 25% moisture. With moisture content that high and no preservative, stored hay will generate more heat than can be safely dissipated into the atmosphere.

How to check hay

Smoldering hay gives off a strong, pungent odor, indicating that a fire is occurring. If even the slightest smell is present, attempt to take temperature readings of the stack, he advises. It's the only real way of determining how bad the potential fire problem is before flames arrive.

Infrared thermometers and digital thermometers are accurate. Local fire companies may be willing to come out with thermal imaging cameras to evaluate a situation, says Hill. "Most would prefer to come out prior to an actual fire to help avoid a catastrophic fire. A number of fire companies and silo-fire experts also have probes available that can be borrowed to monitor a stack of hay."

A stack core temperature between 150 and 174 degrees Fahrenheit is entering the danger zone. Temperatures should be checked twice daily, and if possible the stack should be disassembled to allow more air to cool it.

At 175 degrees, hot spots and pockets of fire are likely. Stop all air movement around the hay and alert a fire service to a possible hay fire incident.

At 190 degrees, remove hot hay with the help of a fire service. Be prepared for the hay to burst into flames as it contacts the air.

At 200 degrees or higher, a fire is almost certain to develop. Call a fire service and have the hay removed. Again, expect the hay to burn as it contacts fresh air.

It's better to have a fire away from your main hay storage or barn. Use caution when moving heated bales. Wetting hot bales down before moving them can help keep them from bursting into flame.

Precision Ag Conference July 14-16 in Springfield

Precision Ag Conference July 14-16 in Springfield

InfoAg 2009, a conference focused on precision ag, will be held July 14-16, 2009 at the Crowne Plaza in Springfield.

This year's conference figures to be another fine showing as precision technology expands its user base. The 16 hours of program include practitioners throughout the production chain. Experts will share their insights on how to put this technology to work.

Registration includes: Tuesday lunch, breaks, and exhibit hall reception; Wednesday breakfast, breaks, lunch, and reception at the Old State Capitol; and Thursday breakfast and break.

InfoAg features 13 sessions of five concurrent tracks plus three plenary sessions sure the stoke the imagination. The program features 66 speakers including producers, input suppliers, crop consultants, industry experts, extension specialists, and scientists. Visit for more information.

Pre-Conference Tour on July 13

This year's pre-conference tour starts at the Brandt Consolidated research farm in Pleasant Plains. A tour of the fields and discussion of the trials will be complemented by an equipment demonstration from Jenner Sales. Lunch will follow at the Brandt headquarters building in Springfield.

After lunch, we will visit Johnson Grain which loads and ships 110-unit trains to Texas and Mexico. Following this stop will be a tour of the Dickey-john electronics facility in Auburn.

The pre-conference tour runs 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, July 13. The $50 fee includes comfortable charter bus transportation, lunch, and InfoAg apparel. We have applied for 4 CEUs for the tour.

Head Off Heat Stress in Feedlot Cattle

Head Off Heat Stress in Feedlot Cattle

Heat stress killed hundreds of feedlot cattle in northeast South Dakota last year. You don't want that to happen to you this season.

"Monitor weather conditions, both temperature and humidity, closely and start interventions early in the day, well before noon," says Russ Daly, SDSU Extension veterinarian. "By the time the high temperature is reached for the day, it will be difficult to cool off animals adequately."

Daly says warm, humid nights may not allow cattle to cool down sufficiently from the afternoon heat, making signs of heat stress appear earlier the next day.

Watch cattle early for signs such as panting or open-mouthed breathing. These are indications that heat stress is occurring and interventions should take place.  

Avoid working, transporting, or moving cattle during hot weather. If it's necessary to work or move cattle, do so in the early morning hours only. Cattle are still dissipating their body heat during the evening hours."

Add a supplemental tank of water to pens of cattle is another step .

Consider the weight and color of animals  Dark-hided and heavier cattle should preferentially be given pens with more airflow. If pens near shelterbelts with poor airflow need to be used, stock them with lighter-weight, lighter-colored calves if possible."

Use sprinklers. They should provide large water droplets instead of a mist. Running the sprinklers for 5-10 minutes at a time, twice an hour, will allow evaporative cooling to take place and is preferred over continuous sprinkling. Wetting down pen surfaces will provide a cooler surface for animals to stand and also will help alleviate heat stress.

The USDA's Agricultural Research Service offers a heat stress forecast page at

Source: SDSU AgBio Communications

Herreid, S.D., Cattlemen Fights Tyson Seizure

Herreid, S.D., Cattlemen Fights Tyson Seizure

"I've never backed down from a fight," said Herman Schumacher.

With that the Herreid, S.D., cattleman and co-founder of R-CALF USA -- a controversial group that has made a name for itself by suing USDA and meat packers -- kicked off a press conference Friday in front of his home, which Tyson is seizing to cover its attorney's fees in a failed price manipulation lawsuit.

Schumacher and two other cattlemen sued Tyson, claiming the meat packer had manipulated prices it paid feeders in violation of the Packers and Stockyards Act.

A federal jury in Aberdeen, S.D., ruled in favor of Schumacher, but Tyson appealed and a panel of judges overturned the verdict. The court allows defendants to collect attorney fees from the plaintiffs. Schumacher's share is approximately $15,000.

U.S. Marshalls posted the seizure notice on Schumacher's blue rambler June 11.

Having "No Trespassing" and "Warning" signs posted on the front door of his house in a town of 400 "was an embarrassment," says Schumacher, who owns ranchland, is a partner in a feedlot and, until recently, ran one of the largest livestock auctions in South Dakota. "There were a lot of rumors."

The posting was also another salvo in the on-going battle of words between R-CALF USA and meat packers.

"The day they posted my house, I had to sell Tyson a pen of cattle and I lost $100,000 on them," Schumacher told about 150 supporters, who attended the rally. "It not enough that they control the market, now they think need to teach us a lesson, too."

The seizure notice "is not just posted on my door," Schumacher said. "It is posted on the door of every cattle producer … Tyson is letting the world know they are in charge."

Bill Bullard, R-CALF USA's CEO, said the organization will continue to fight Tyson and the other meat packers. Their effort will shift from the courts to Congress. Bullard says the Obama administration indicated it is concerned with market concentration in the meat industry, too.

United Cooperative Wins Land O'Lakes Purina Feed Dedication to Quality Award

United Cooperative Wins Land O'Lakes Purina Feed Dedication to Quality Award

United Cooperative, based out of Beaver Dam, recently received Land O'Lakes Purina Feed's "Dedication to Quality" award for meeting or exceeding the national feed manufacturer's safety and quality standards. Over the years, many of United Cooperative's feed locations have consistently been honored with this award.

"The United Cooperative feed division always works very hard at maintaining a high level of quality with our products and services," commented John Scheuers, United Cooperative vice president of feed operations. "Good quality feed and service results in successful customers. And at United Cooperative, our customers have been very important to us for more than 73 years as we're a cooperative and our customers are our owners," he added.

As a feed licensed manufacturer (FLM) for the number one feed marketer in North America, United Cooperative is licensed to manufacture Land O'Lakes Purina Feed branded feed, then market and sell them to their own retail customers in their local trade area. The FLM program is the only one of its kind among animal feed manufacturers in the U.S. The FLM earns the "Dedication to Quality" award by meeting or exceeding FLM program feed safety, feed quality, and feed regulatory requirements and standards.

"As a part of the FLM program, the local feed license manufacturing cooperative location has the opportunity to earn the program's annual 'Dedication to Quality' award by meeting or exceeding the FLM program requirements," said Steve Smart, Land O'Lakes Purina Feed FLM program manager. "Some of the requirements even exceed FDA standards. We're very proud of the great work and commitment our FLMs have to producing the best in animal nutrition."

Land O'Lakes Purina Feed LLC ( is a national organization serving producers and their families through 4,700 local cooperatives and independent dealerships throughout the United States. The company, in combination with its wholly owned subsidiary Purina Mills, LLC, is North America's leading feed company, providing producers, cooperatives, and dealers with an extensive line of animal feed, ingredients, and services designed to help agricultural producers, dealers, and cooperatives compete in the global marketplace.