2011 Commodity Classic: Optimism, With A Hint Of Worry

Compared with the past few gatherings, the 2011 Commodity Classic was a welcome change. Instead of talk about high crop input prices and a complete lack of buying on the part of grower-customers, almost everyone seemed happy as crop prices kept rising and input orders zipped along at a regular clip. “It’s so good for things in agriculture to be back to normal going into the spring,” more than one attendee could be heard saying while walking the aisles of the Tampa Convention Center exhibit hall.

This being agriculture, however, there was some note of caution about being too optimistic. In particular, several Commodity Classic attendees expressed concern the ballooning federal deficit, coupled with budget shortfalls for individual states and local communities, could put a damper on ag’s ability to grow in the long run. In fact, the associations that hold the Commodity Classic — the National Association of Wheat Growers, Nation­al Corn Growers Association, the American Soybean Association and the National Sorghum Producers — issued a joint statement echoing this threat. “We recognize that reducing federal deficits and the national debt is critical to putting the American economy, including U.S. agriculture, on a sound course for future growth and prosperity,” said the statement. “We note that agriculture made a down payment in cutting spending when the Department of Agriculture directed $4 billion in savings under the Standard Reinsurance Agreement for federal crop insurance toward deficit reduction. We believe any further reduction in discretionary spending should recognize and reflect this contribution.”

At the event’s general session, these fears were largely confirmed by the keynote speakers from the nation’s capital. First up was Representative Frank Lucas (R-OK). Now in his 10th term, Lucas is the chairman for the Agriculture Committee and told attendees that agriculture is critical to pulling the U.S. out of its economic funk. “The farm economy in this country is generally strong,” said Lucas. “In fact, you can make the case that agriculture is leading the nation’s economic recovery, just as it did during the last recession.”

Of course, to hear Lucas tell it, not everyone in Washington, DC, understands the role agriculture is playing in the nation’s big economic picture. In particular, he singled out some proposals coming out of the EPA for scorn.

“EPA wants no dust generated from tillage and is re-reviewing the safety of atrazine,” he said. “Also, EPA wants no spray drift of crop protection products away from their intended target source, which would mean application could only be performed in the absence of wind. Do you know how many days the wind doesn’t blow in my part of Oklahoma? In fact, if the wind doesn’t blow in Oklahoma for more than four days in a row, people there start saying it’s the end of the world. This assault on production agriculture by EPA must stop.”

In addition, he warned that the fight for the 2012 Farm Bill will be “a doozy” because of budget concerns and the large number of new representatives on the Agriculture Committee without ag backgrounds. “In many people’s minds, the best case scenario is that we keep everything we have now in the 2012 Farm Bill,” said Lucas. “That’s not possible.”

Lucas was followed on the main stage by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. He also thought agriculture had a “great story” to tell regarding its role in helping the U.S. economy recover from the Great Recession of 2008-09. “The U.S. had a trade surplus on agricultural products of $47.5 billion in 2010,” said Vilsack. “China is now the No. 1 customer of U.S. agriculture products, surpassing the previous No. 1 Canada last year.”

Vilsack also had a bit of scorn for agricultural opponents, particularly those fanning the flames of “food vs. fuel” when it comes to the production of biofuels. “Those that seek to slow down the biofuels movement don’t understand the importance of this effort,” he said. “We import 60% of our oil in this country, up 30% since the 1970s. It’s irritating to me that we have to read about this food vs. fuel issue all the time. I’m convinced U.S. growers can meet all our needs without anyone suffering.”

On The Floor

For the most part, this hint of dread was absent from the Commodity Classic trade show. Instead, exhibitor booths were packed with information on existing products, with a few offering previews of important developments that won’t be around for a couple of years, but offer exciting potential for modern production agriculture. On the equipment side, one of the most eye-catching pieces was the Guardian self-propelled sprayer from New Holland Agriculture. Featuring a number of different horsepower engines (ranging from 240 to 365) and product tanks (ranging from 1,000 to 1,600 gallons), the Guardian can be equipped with either a rear or front boom ranging in size from 80- to 120-feet.

On the crop protection product front, FMC Corp. announced the release of its Authority XL herbicide. Part of the company’s Authority herbicide line of products for soybeans, Authority XL provides control of tough weeds such as common ragweed, giant ragweed, common lambsquarters, common cocklebur and common waterhemp.

“As growers have seen in the past two years, cool, wet conditions in the spring can hamper their ability to get in the field to make a burndown or post-emergent herbicide application,” said Matt Foster, FMC product manager. “Fall applications of Authority XL reduce early weed competition, which in turn protect yield potential, and also give the grower more flexibility on when to apply an in-crop glyphosate application.”

Monsanto is taking another step forward in its Prescriptive Ag Solutions initiative, designed to help growers improve seed placement and plant population decisions. Monsanto representatives are currently delivering IntelliScan field guides and IntelliSeed custom planting recommendations to farmers who participated in the program.

IntelliScan contains detailed field maps and data that provide the farmer with insights into field-specific growing conditions. Using the IntelliScan field guide, Monsanto wants to help farmers to assess potential field stresses and match hybrids and varieties for specific field conditions, choose the right plant population customized to field environmental factors and conduct a post-season crop review of in-field variability for future corrective action.

“Today, farmers are looking for advances in seed technologies and precision planting practices that will enable them to produce more, conserve more and remain profitable,” says Julie LaBonte, Monsanto Prescriptive Ag business manager. “These tools are Monsanto’s next steps toward providing increased confidence in seed choice, placement and plant population for field-specific recommendations.”

Farmers in the pilot program are also receiving IntelliSeed custom planting recommendations that enhance the crop management decisions for the current year, as well as provide insight for future crop decisions.

“Monsanto is focused on helping farmers double their yield output in major crops by the year 2030,” says LaBonte. “Along with our elite seed genetics and broad biotechnology traits pipeline, we believe Prescriptive Ag Solutions will help us attain that goal.”

Crop protection manufacturer MANA is looking to raise its profile with growers and retailers in 2011 through its new Protected Acre Program. The company is positioning itself as a producer of a full line of high-quality post-patent products, and through Protected Acre is helping growers to figure out when and how MANA’s post-patent portfolio can be used in their cropping plan.

Working with MANA, growers look at the full scope of their cropping plan and build a season-long strategy that matches MANA products with anticipated needs. “Each program is customized with flexible alternatives planned in advance before the crop season begins,” explains Sara Thieding, marketing manager. “Every stage of crop growth and the risks associated with those stages are considered in advance. It is a pre-planned preventive strategy that gives superior protection against weeds, insects and disease all season.”

And there are plenty of options — MANA currently offers over 60 branded insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, plant growth regulators and harvest aids from a portfolio of more than 50 strategic active ingredients.

MANA is also collaborating with manufacturers, as evidenced by its partnership deal with Monsanto last fall. Under the partnership, Monsanto has licensed its Roundup Ready PLUS trademark for use with select products from MANA, giving growers the option to use multiple modes of action to combat weeds that have developed resistance to glyphosate.

Coming Attractions

On the futures front, Bayer CropSci­ence announced at Commodity Class­ic that it was constructing a new BioSci­ence Greenhouse at it’s Research Tri­angle Park, NC, location. This two-story facility will provide 30,000 square feet of greenhouse space to conduct trait research and 2,400 square feet of growth chambers with associated lab, seed handling and storage areas.

At BASF, the talk concerned Xemi­um, a next-generation fungicide in the carboxamide family discovered by researchers at BASF headquarters in Limburgerhof, Germany.

“Our history and experience with carboxamides led us to the discovery of Xemium,” said Dr. Ulf Groeger, BASF global project leader for Xemium. “The unique mobility in the plant ensures a long-lasting preventative and curative effect to protect the crop from damaging fungal pathogens.”

According to Groeger, studies show Xemium performs better than other carboxamides previously available. The discovery of Xemium brings yet another proprietary molecule to the market in this class of chemistry, also known as Succinate Dehydrogenase (SDH) inhibitors.

In the U.S., Xemium will be a brand of fungicides, sold under the tradenames Merivon fungicide for pome fruits, Priaxor fungicide for row crops and Systiva fungicide for seed treatments. “Research has been conducted on these individual products, and we have seen consistent performance because of the continuous protection provided by Xemium,” said Nick Fassler, BASF technical market manager. “Merivon, Priaxor and Systiva will also be important tools for managing fungicide resistance. When used rotationally with other chemistries, products containing Xemium will help combat resistance to tough fungal pathogens.”

Xemium fungicide was submitted for registration through a workshare joint review between the U.S., Canada and Australia in early 2010, with U.S. registration anticipated in 2012.

Also, Dow AgroSciences gave 2011 Commodity Classic attendees a peak at its Enlist Weed Control System. A new herbicide-tolerant trait system using the company’s unique 2,4-D chemistry, Enlist in combination with glyphosate can be used to combat a growing number of resistant weed types. “Resistant weeds are big in our area,” said Malcolm Haigwood, an Arkansas grower invited by Dow to speak at the event. “We currently have five or six different weed species that are extremely hard to control.”

According to Damon Palmer, Dow U.S. commercial leader, the Enlist system will be stacked with glyphosate-tolerant and insect-resistant traits. Commercial launch of the system in the U.S. is anticipated in corn for 2013, with other crops to follow shortly thereafter.

On the technology side, John Deere put its stake in the ground on wireless connectivity with the announcement of a new technology strategy at Commodity Classic. John Deere is bringing together its current and future wireless technology solutions under a new brand called FarmSight, with a goal of providing an “integrated and comprehensive vision” for meeting the needs of the increasingly complex growing operation.

The FarmSight vision serves to focus current and future Deere offerings under a single umbrella, including aspects of its JDLink telematics solution, Ag Logic asset and fleet management solution, and Apex desktop software.

Fully implemented, FarmSight will be built on three solution pillars, says Jerry Roell, director of FarmSight. These include: machine optimization using wireless communication to ensure top productivity and maximum uptime; logistics optimization to improve fleet management and allow machine to machine communication; and ag decision support to ease the collection and aggregation of data to allow for better decision making.

The FarmSight system will utilize a web portal that will facilitate the movement of data and information, and allow the local John Deere dealer and selected service providers such as crop consultants and agronomy service providers to give more support to the grower’s operation. FarmSight will be fully supported by the John Deere dealer.

Still in the early stages of development, FarmSight will be rolling out services as they come on-line.

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