It''s a Classic

March 27, 2009 07:00 PM

From farm bill discussions to homemade cinnamon rolls, the 2009 Commodity Classic in Grapevine, Texas, served up a range of discussions for all tastes. A record crowd of more than 4,500 and a trade show representing 236 companies made it the largest show since the event began in 1996. A packed house took part in a live "U.S. Farm Report” taping during the event.

For the first time, the National Sorghum Producers joined corn, soybean and wheat associations in the conference. Disharmony between the American Soybean Association and the United Soybean Board created an undercurrent of friction at the event (see "Soybean Saga,” page 24). An announcement from President Barack Obama's administration on payment limits raised even more eyebrows.
In the hallways, farmers discussed the freefall of commodity prices. More than 1,500 producers showed up, searching for ways to eke more out of every acre. Yield contest winners were also popular with fellow farmers.

The selection of inputs on display in the trade show and educational sessions underscored the volume of new traits and chemistry flowing to market. The world's largest agribusinesses trotted out scientists and CEOs to explain the how and why of new product lineups.

On the horizon. "There's a huge amount of technology coming,” said Robb Fraley, Monsanto Company's chief technology officer. "New breeding advancements and biotechnology are teaming up to bring new hybrids, varieties and trait combinations. Then we're adding seed treatments. Not only does this impact the yields we're going to see but it also influences policy decisions and how the industry allocates resources between food and fuel.”

Michael Deall, Bayer CropScience vice president of marketing and portfolio management, said his company plans to invest $4.8 billion in research and development—$3.7 billion in chemistry and $1.1 billion in biotechnology—during the next five years.

"We are looking beyond classical active ingredients. Our research is supporting life cycle management and addressing new growth areas in plant health,” Deall said.

"We're finding chemistry that can turn genes on and off to protect the plant. Plant diagnostics will be part of the toolbox,” he added.

This kind of innovation makes ag economist David Kohl see agriculture as a field that is filled with new opportunities. While the general U.S. economy may be gasping, agriculture remains a bright spot.

"Ag is the kid in school that hasn't gotten the flu yet,” said Kohl, Virginia Tech professor emeritus. "It's one of this country's best-kept secrets.” Calling agriculture an "economic engine,” Kohl warned those attending the Bayer CropScience 2009 Ag Issues Forum to expect economic volatility to become "the new norm.”

"There will be a reprioritizing of business decisions and personal and family decisions. Cash and liquidity will become king,” Kohl explained. In the end, he added, we will all be better off for the belt-tightening and economic reality check.

Products Galore

Sorting through the new products coming to market this year is a lot like attending a family reunion for the first time. Putting the right names with the right manufacturers and remembering them can be a real challenge.

There are several megatrends that apply to new products, though. The 2009 commodity trade show floor was buzzing with words and phrases such as multiple modes of action, resistance, residual, safeners, stacks, drought tolerance, yield genes and flexibility. Here's a sampling of some of the new products headed your way:

Kixor herbicide is a new breed of PPO inhibitor for broadleaf weeds in corn, soybeans, sorghum and cereals. Think soil and foliar control with complete burndown in three to five days plus residual control (watch a time-lapse video of how it works at TwinLine fungicide controls stripe rust and other wheat diseases and is powered by the same active ingredient as Headline (pyraclostrobin) and another triazole (metconazole). Caramba fungicide contains the active ingredient metconazole and specifically targets head scab and
reduces DON levels.

Bayer CropScience:
LibertyLink soybeans will find their way to fields in
select markets in 2009, with full launch in 2010. Ignite herbicide is now labeled for use on all LibertyLink crops (corn, soybeans, cotton and canola) and is the only nonselective alternative to glyphosate-tolerant systems. Balance Flexx controls more than 50 grass and broadleaf weeds in corn from burndown through early postemergence. Corvus herbicide is a one-pass, full-season weed control tool combining two active ingredients with a crop safener. Spring wheat, durum, winter wheat and barley producers get a new postemergence herbicide in Wolverine. Prosaro fungicide battles wheat and barley diseases with excellent activity on Fusarium head blight.

Dow AgroSciences:
Broad spectrum insect protection is headed your way in 2010 with SmartStax—a new corn trait combination developed by Dow AgroSciences and Monsanto Company. The first trait package to provide multiple modes of action for above- and below-ground pest control combines Herculex and YieldGard. Dow's new Lorsban Advanced insecticide offers the same benefits of Lorsban 4E in a low-odor, water-based formulation. Spring wheat and durum growers get flexibility with GoldSky herbicide, which includes three active ingredients, two modes of action and safener technology. It controls tough grasses and broadleaf weeds with no crop rotation restrictions. PowerFlex herbicide is a new combination grass and broadleaf herbicide for winter wheat growers.

DuPont & Pioneer: High-yielding Y Series soybeans debut this season from Pioneer Hi-Bred, a DuPont business. High-oleic soybeans are expected to be registered this year. Corn with the Optimum GAT (glyphosate plus ALS tolerance) trait will arrive in 2010 and Optimum GAT soybeans in 2011. Complimentary new ALS herbicides DuPont Freestyle, Traverse, Instigate and Diligent will be in plots this year. Registration of reduced corn refuge solution products called Optimum AcreMax 1 is expected this year, with full commercial launch in 2010.
Resolve Q is a new residual corn herbicide from DuPont. Soybean herbicide Envive contains two modes of action for contact and residual control. Wheat growers get four active ingredients and two modes of action with the soluble granule formulation in Agility SG.

FMC: Adding to the Authority family of soybean herbicides, FMC introduces Authority Assist to control a variety of broadleaf weeds and grasses, including many ALS- and glyphosate-resistant weeds. Authority Assist can be applied preplant, PPI or PRE in a no-till, minimum-till or conventional-tillage system. The spectrum of Authority products includes Authority First DF and Authority MTZ. FMC also offers a new corn and soybean herbicide called Cadet to control a variety of broadleaf weeds, including velvetleaf, pigweed, lambsquarter, waterhemp and nightshade. Cadet is applied as a tank mix with glyphosate or other post-emergence herbicides.

Monsanto: This year, higher-yielding Roundup Ready 2 Yield soybeans will be planted on 1.5 million acres, with full release for the 2010 crop year. Acceleron brand seed treatment comes preloaded on Roundup Ready 2 Yield varieties. Watch for VT Triple Pro corn, a new triple-stack technology, in plots this season. VT Triple Pro is the foundation for new Genuity SmartStax corn, the hybrid packed with eight independent genes for above- and belowground insect protection and herbicide tolerance that is aimed for 2010 introduction, pending regulatory approval.

Avicta Complete Corn combines Avicta seed treatment nematicide, Cruiser seed treatment insecticide and the fungicide package of Apron XL, Maxim XL and Dynasty to protect seedlings against nematodes, early season insects and diseases (commercial in 2010). Axial TBC herbicide provides cereal crops with grass and broadleaf weed control. Lumax herbicide has
received federal registration in grain sorghum, but state registrations are pending. Syngenta Seeds introduced six grain sorghum hybrids through Garst, Golden Harvest and NK Seeds in 2009. For 2010, NK soybean growers will see the first integrated aphid management system that leverages a native gene for resistance with seed treatment products and foliar insecticides. Agrisure Viptera trait, a new insecticidal Cry protein, should be available for 2010 corn planting, pending approval.

Machinery Mania

What's a trade show without iron? Commodity Classic attendees were treated to a look at new sprayer technology from John Deere.
John Deere self-propelled sprayers can now be converted for a total
in-field height clearance of 76" thanks to an add-on kit. The high-clearance bundle is John Deere's response to growers wishing to apply fungicides in corn at tassel. The 16" extension is available for 2008 and 2009 models of 4730 and 4830 sprayers. Installation takes about four hours, and the high-clearance kit can be removed to return the machine to its original 60" clearance.

Retrofitted Renegade. Talk about a showstopper. MachineryLink, the combine leasing company, has teamed with Chrome Shop Mafia to create the Renegade combine.
You might say it's a combine gone wild, but it's actually a 1968 two-row John Deere Model 95 "Corn Special” combine given the full treatment by Chrome Shop Mafia, whose work was featured on many episodes of the television program "Trick My Truck.” The back section of the combine articulates 90º upward to reveal a complete audiovisual system. Onlookers step inside to see the display of the MachineryLink Web site, videos and presentations. The Chrome Shop Mafia crew removed all the threshing iron, but the combine can still move in and out of farm-show lots on its own with a tuned-up engine.

Brand New Names
Get ready to add some new words to your vocabulary. Agribusiness giants Monsanto Company and DuPont have both unveiled new brand names that correspond to new families of traits.

Beginning in 2010, you will find the name "Genuity” on all Monsanto's newest and future traits. The brand designates a family of traits designed to work together to enhance crop potential and to help farmers select the best in-seed traits for their farm. Dion McBay, Monsanto U.S. traits marketing lead, says the brand name is the result of conversations and feedback that started with farmers.

The new brand will appear on the bag along with an icon system that designates the traits included in the bag. For example, a drawing of an insect on the bag means the seed contains an insect trait.
Likewise, from Pioneer Hi-Bred, a DuPont business, comes a new family of traits, products and accompanying programs called "Optimum Brand Innovations.”

Optimum GAT herbicide tolerance trait and Optimum AcreMax 1 insect protection are current members of the family of Optimum Brand Innovations. Future brands will include product advancements from the Pioneer proprietary pipeline of input traits.

"Our goal of more than 80 years in the seed industry remains the same—to increase the productivity and profitability of our customers by placing the right product on the right acres and providing services our customers need to succeed,” said Terry Gardener, director, North American product marketing for Pioneer. The Optimum brand umbrella allows the company to differentiate and identify the latest input traits for growers, he adds.

Soybean Saga
There are enough storylines in the current brouhaha between the American Soybean Association (ASA) and the United Soybean Board (USB) to make a good TV mini series. Every soybean farmer has a role, as the national checkoff program is at the heart of the battle. If you raise soybeans, you chip in one-half of 1% of the net soybean market price to fund the program.

Right now, the drama is still playing out, and we're in the middle of the plot. Rumors were flying during Commodity Classic, and like any spat, it's hard to figure out whodunit. It's tough enough to keep the acronyms straight.

If you've missed an episode, here's a recap: In December, ASA called for an investigation of USB (the board that administers checkoff spending) and the U.S. Soybean Export Council (USSEC), the international marketing arm of the checkoff program. Meanwhile, a group of disgruntled farmers stirred the pot more when they formed a completely new group called the U.S. Soybean Federation (USSF).
You can find blow-by-blow details of what's happened and currently happening on Top Producer's Web site ( The allegations are serious and include mishandling of soybean checkoff funds, conflicts of interest, inappropriate employee relationships, firing of whistleblowers, contract violations and investigative cover ups. USB and USSEC have their own side of the story—USB conducts an annual independent audit and got a clean bill of health for the 2008 fiscal year.

It's all messy. Fast forward to what you really need to know. USB has been notified that USDA and the Office of Inspector General are investigating the matter. In the meantime, USDA has announced it will offer soybean producers the opportunity to request a referendum on the Soybean Promotion and Research Order, better known as the national soybean checkoff. This would have happened anyway because the act that authorizes the soybean checkoff program requires the Secretary of Agriculture to conduct a request for referendum every five years. The last request was in 2004.
This means soybean producers who are interested in having a referendum to determine whether to continue the soybean checkoff program will have to vote to make it happen. USDA will conduct a referendum if at least 10% of the nation's 589,182 soybean producers say they want it. Not more than one-fifth of the producers who support having a referendum can be from any one state.
Beginning May 4 and continuing through May 29, 2009, you'll get a form by mail, fax or in person from the Farm Service Agency county office. You'll have to certify and provide documentation that you produced soybeans and paid an assessment on soybeans during the period of Jan. 1, 2007, through Dec. 31, 2008.

USDA figures show assessments under this program average $40 million to $50 million annually. However, higher commodity prices and acreage bumped checkoff collections to more than $67.2 million (national portion only) in fiscal year 2008.

An independent return on investment study by Gary Williams of the Texas Agribusiness Market Research Center at Texas A&M University shows every checkoff dollar invested returns $6.40 in additional profit to the U.S. soybean farmer.

In addition, the study, released in February 2009, shows the checkoff increased soybean prices by an average of 2% each year.

The 68-farmer board is appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture to expand and improve the use of soybeans and soybean products.

In 2004, only 3,206 valid requests for a referendum were cast by soybean farmers—far short of the 66,388 votes required to trigger a referendum. What will happen in 2009? Stay tuned.

A Bean Map
Think of it as a road map to the soybean. With the help of the United Soybean Board (USB) and soybean checkoff–funded genomics tools, the U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute has mapped the soybean's genetic code.

The soybean genome gives us the equivalent of a parts list, said Gary Stacey, the associate director of the National
Center for Soybean Biotechnology at the University of Missouri.

"Probably the first impact that the farming community will see is an acceleration of the use of molecular markers to bring new cultivars to the farm,” Stacey said.

"Funding from the United Soybean Board enabled the initial sequencing of what we call EST or express sequence tags,” Stacey recalled. "In my opinion, it was USB-sponsored workshops that
allowed us to bring the soybean community together on this effort.”

Stacey, speaking at the 2009 Commodity Classic, said the map will be a valuable tool to soybean breeders, allowing them to more precisely attack agronomic problems, such as soybean cyst nematode, a pest that costs U.S. farmers some 150 billion bushels each year. Along with improving defensive traits, researchers are also looking for genetic markers that will help increase soybean yields.

Stacey said the project will also help researchers correct what he calls "linkage drag,” which occurs when multiple traits are stacked together.

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