Entering The Ethanol Age

Back in January, CropLife® magazine published its short list of top retailer issues for 2006: product pricing, glyphosate resistance/tolerance, and Asian soybean rust. Hindsight being 20/20, we now know that ethanol also should have been highlighted.

But that’s the beauty of a December synopsis; everyone gets to look back and tweak the list — after the fact.

In the end, this year’s major topics included energy and ethanol, rust and resistance, and biotech and meth, plus an exciting development in precision agriculture.

The New Gold Rush: Biofuels

Americans’ frustration with higher gasoline costs and dependence on foreign oil, increasing numbers of hybrid vehicles, and President George W. Bush’s State of the Union announcement of the Advanced Energy Initiative added more fuel to the fired-up interest in corn-based ethanol and soybean-based biodiesel this year.

Experts anticipate an increase in corn acres in an attempt to meet the larger demand for ethanol, and many ag dealerships are already strong believers in biodiesel. The expected higher market prices mean grower-customers will be willing to spend more input dollars, and that’s good news for retailers.

Biotech Bounty

The effort to increase corn and soybeans available for biofuel production also will require improved seed traits and yields. For example, earlier this year Syngenta announced that it expects to launch a genetically modified corn seed that could lower the cost of ethanol production by 10%.

More trait stacks, increased insect resistance, and technology licensing deals were just some improvements that marked the biotechnology landscape as seed continues to strongarm crop protection product sales

Growers gained new markets in Japan and the European Union, respectively, for Dow AgroSciences/Pioneer Hi-Bred International‘s Herculex RW Rootworm Protection and Herculex XTRA Insect Protection grain corn hybrids and Monsanto‘s YieldGard Plus corn and YieldGard Rootworm and processed products.

Weed Management

The glyphosate resistance/tolerance issue is now of such concern to retailers and their grower-customers that CropLife and its sister publication, Cotton Grower magazine, presented three “Total Weed Management” Special Reports, sponsored by Monsanto Co. in 2006.

In March, the report covered best practices for today’s cropping systems, with “Don’t Dismiss Resistance” as the key message. The second report, in May, focused on best practices for protecting yield and reducing risk.

“Total Weed Management: Year In Review and 2007 Outlook” was the theme of the November report. University, association, and manufacturer resources also were included with each report.

On the seed side, the first round of the battle over glyphosate-tolerant technology rights between Monsanto and Syngenta went to Syngenta Seeds, Inc. Monsanto announced it would appeal the U.S. District Court ruling that allowed Syngenta Seeds to sell its GA21 products.

Post-Patent Popularity Up

Post-patent products — which represent approximately half of the market share of all crop protection products — continued to be embraced by top retailers. This year, 86% of them reported buying post-patent products, a jump from 79% in 2005.

This figure becomes more significant when the across-the-board price increases are factored in. Manufacturers had previously been able to absorb most of the growing material costs, but this year’s jump in energy prices — due to increased demand and abetted by the 2005 hurricane season — forced them to share some of the increase with customers.

Rust Makes Late Surge

For most of its sophomore year in the U.S., Asian soybean rust stayed tucked away in the South again. A late-season surge — too late to affect yields in most areas — took the disease up into Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, and Virginia.

Nothing stays stagnant for long on the rust front. The PIPE Web site was updated this year to show where rust-infected sites have been destroyed, soybean aphid tracking was added, and Mexico’s data may soon be included. And retailers’ arsenal of Section 18 emergency exemption fungicides for rust control was beefed up with the addition of Domark, Onset, Uppercut, and Alto.

Deterring The Meth Problem

Retailers got a helping hand with the growing methamphetamine (meth) problem when the USA Patriot Act was renewed in March. The act regulates the sale of pseudoephedrine, the main ingredient in the manufacture of the illegal drug, and is expected to reduce the theft of anhydrous ammonia (NH3) from ag dealerships.

Another deterrent, discovered by Iowa State University researchers, is calcium nitrate. When injected into NH3 nurse tanks, it dramatically reduces the amount of meth produced. The product is not yet available on a large-scale basis.

Precision Gains Focus

In 2006, the practice of precision agriculture began its second decade. In response to the mind-boggling rate that new technologies come on board from many sources, the CropLife Media Group has launched the PrecisionAg Institute. This independent and neutral forum — which will be managed by the CropLife Media Group — will serve as a central depot for all things precision, and 13 companies have signed on as Founding Partners.

The Institute’s mission is to foster technology transfer, wider adoption, and increasingly effective use of precision agriculture technology worldwide in the years to come.

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