Precious Commodity

Perhaps it was the location — warm weather Anaheim, CA, a pleasant departure from the snow-covered Eastern half of the U.S. Maybe it was the glamour — lots of big booths and flashy electronics on the exhibition floor. Or it could have been the fact that the agricultural marketplace was through with 2008 and 2009 — two of the most challenging production/profit years in memory. Whatever the case, attendees to the 15th annual Commodity Classic were in a positive mood, and they were rewarded with plenty of new and interesting products to see.

2010 Commodity Classic

Growers and ag retailers attending this year’s event had a much clearer view of the industry. During the 2009 Commodity Classic, virtually no growers had placed their fertilizer and seed orders with dealerships because of uncertainty in the general economy coupled with high input costs, despite the fact that the show was being held in early March.

This year, however, most of the retailers at the show reported grower-customers had already locked in fertilizer and seed orders for 2010 weeks beforehand. “I’ve even had some customers pre-order their fertilizer needs for 2011 and 2012,” said one retailer from Iowa.

This should continue to be the case, said John Ryan, president and CEO for Rabo AgriFinance Inc., because of the inherent frugalness on the part of the nation’s growers. “The financial trends are positive for 2010,” said Ryan, speaking at a show forum earlier this year. “Growers are positioned to weather the recent economic downturn because of their debt management practices over the past several years.”

Product Profiles

As evidence of this market confidence, several companies at the 2010 Commodity Classic took the opportunity to highlight new or improved product offerings to attendees. In particular, crop protection manufacturers were at the forefront of this trend.

BASF touted its newly released Kix­or herbicide technology as a way for growers to combat the growing problem of weed resistance. With the active ingredient pyrimidinedione, Kixor is designed to control more than 70 of the toughest-to-control weeds including those resistant to ALS inhibitors, triazines, and glyphosate, said Dr. Dan Westberg, technical marketing manager for the company. “Kixor offers fast, effective burndown of broadleaf weeds such as marestail, giant ragweed, and common lambsquarters without the hassle of preplant restrictions,” said Westberg. “Older products such as 2,4-D require a restriction of one to two weeks between its application and planting corn or soybeans.”

In addition to Kixor, BASF also added a new option to its popular Headline fungicide. Headline AMP, available for use in corn this season, combines the power of pyraclostrobin with a triazole, providing both preventive and curative activity. The target customer for Headline AMP is looking for protection from both foliar disease and the benefits of improved plant health.

According to Nick Fassler, technical market manager, three years of research with the new formulation on corn has revealed an average benefit of more than 11 bushels per acre vs. untreated corn, and about 8 bushels per acre vs. other fungicides tested. He added that the product has shown excellent activity on many foliar corn diseases, including anthrac­nose, grey leaf spot, Northern corn leaf blight, Southern corn rust, and eyespot.

For retailers, BASF continues to offer incentives to growers who make the commitment to order Headline in advance. In addition to helping retailers lock in sales, BASF hopes that the program will improve the annual logistical challenge of meeting the product and application demands of growers during the relatively short “apply at tassle” window Headline requires for maximum effectiveness. “There is still a lot of opportunity out there for Headline,” said Nevin McDougall, group vice president of BASF North America crop protection. “Only about 25% to 30% of corn acres in the heart of the Corn Belt get a fungicide application.”

Meanwhile, DuPont announced new registered uses for its Coragen insecticide. Now registered for sweet, field, and seed corn, alfalfa, and many specialty crops, Coragen provides a new mode of action for managing insect resistance, and for seed corn delivers the unique combination of long residual activity — 22 days to 31 days — with short reentry (five hours) and preharvest (one day) intervals.

Biotech Wonders

New biotechnology releases also generated a lot of buzz at the Classic. Topping the list is the 2010 release of the much-anticipated SmartStax branded seed from both Dow AgroSciences/Mycogen and Monsanto. Mycogen announced during the show that the first SmartStax plantings were already underway in Texas as the two companies, who are cooperating on the marketing of SmartStax, made their pitches to growers in attendance.

One of the key benefits built into SmartStax is the employment of two distinct Bt (Bacillus thuringiensus) toxins with different modes of action to improve insect control and reduce the potential for insect resistance. As a result, EPA has reduced the refuge requirement from 20% to 5% in Midwestern corn growing regions. Early this year, Dow AgroSciences and Monsanto submitted to EPA for registration of a 5% interspersed refuge or “refuge in a bag,” notes Mycogen Seeds General Manager Doug Vail. If approved, each bag of seed would contain the necessary refuge seed for both above- and below-ground pest requirements.

Over the next decade, Dow AgroSci­ences and Monsanto development of seed under the SmartStax brand will become increasingly divergent. Dow AgroSciences is working on a 2,4-D-resistant trait that will be a pivot point for future development, and Monsanto is working on dicamba-resistant traits. Monsanto is also collaborating with BASF on corn research to improve plant water use efficiency and reduce fertilizer needs.

Syngenta announced progress on its Viptera 3220 trait stack, which is being reviewed for deregulation by USDA. The trait has received approval from EPA as a single trait and in a stack with the Agrisure CB/LL trait, and has been approved for a 20% refuge in cotton-growing areas. With the Agrisure Vip­tera 3220 stack, Syngenta is seeking a 5% refuge in the Corn Belt and a 20% refuge in cotton-growing areas.

Syngenta also shared progress on its water optimization technology, which Project Marketing Head Tracy Mader says it plans to introduce for the 2011 season in areas of the Plains and western Corn Belt.

In seed treatment, StollerUSA discussed its Bio-Forge product. Ac­cord­ing to Jeff Morgan, marketing director, Bio-Forge has been used as a foliar or in-furrow treatment for many years. “But growers experimented with Bio-Forge as a seed treatment and reported yield increases from 10% to 25%,” said Mor­gan.

Dow was also spreading the word about its nitrogen stabilizer, Instinct, another strong business builder for retailers. Christopher Berry, market developer for the product, says that supply this season will likely be tight for Instinct, which is designed to stabilize nitrogen at the root zone when tank mixed with UAN or liquid manure.

More High Tech

On the new technology front, Topcon Positioning Systems showed off its AES-25 Accurate Electric Steering to attendees. This unit offers users full terrain compensation, reverse operation, and up to 2 centimeters performance accuracy, according to the company. An optional wheel angle sensor can be added to the AES-25 for greater stability in challenging conditions.

Raven Industries generated buzz with its new Slingshot system. Fully implemented, the system will allow authorized Slingshot dealers to provide grower-subscribers wireless Internet and RTK GPS signal access using a Raven-manufactured radio modem and a compatible in-cab computer.

Going retro, John Deere highlighted its customized 4020. A version of the company’s tractor model from 1970, this six-cylinder unit was designed by automotive designer Chip Fosse and features an “Indy car racing” look, complete with turf tires in the back and three-ribbed tires in the front. The 4020 will tour the country during spring and be awarded to a lucky winner as part of the company’s Big Buck Promotions, which ends June 30.

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