One of the best parts of my job is travelling across the country, to cover news events, meet new people and just generally learning what's going on. Here's a rundown on some of the things I've covered lately.
Preview of new biorational manufacturing facility: Valent BioSciences gave the media a preview of their new plant at Osage, Iowa, which officially opened on June 27. It's a $146 million, 130,000 square-foot facility – the first-ever facility designed and built for the sole purpose of manufacturing biorational products.
Biorationals – the fastest growing segment of agrochemicals used in crop production and protection -- include a broad range of sustainable products or substances used in agriculture, public health and forestry. They are typically derived from natural or biological origins and include biological pesticides as well as products used for crop stress management, enhanced plant physiology benefits, root growth management and postharvest benefits.
The new plant features a state-of-the art fermentation system, a pilot plant for small-scale manufacture of products in development, analytical testing labs and an insectary.
One of the things that impressed me was they "raise" caterpillars and mosquitos for testing their products.
Management philosophy – I accompanied Tom Bechman, editor of Indiana Prairie Farmer, on part of the 2014 Indiana Farm Management Tour in June. One of the stops was at the Whitsitt Farm near Huntingburg, Indiana, located near the Ohio River with access to specialty and export markets. Dennis Whitsitt is the president and manager of this diversified family farm corporation 350 acres of white corn, popcorn, full season soybeans, wheat/double crop soybeans, and around 80 head of beef cows.
They obviously take advantage of the specialty markets.
But what impressed me was Dennis' management philosophy – hire other folks to take the worry out of day-to-day management. The Whitsitt family works with Val Maeker, an accounting specialist with AgriSolutions. Dennis' wife Jane does the recordkeeping and works hard to ensure they know the real costs associated with each enterprise. AgriSolutions double checks to make sure all entries are in the correct category. "That takes a load off our minds, knowing the information is accurate," says Dennis.
They also use precision ag data and equipment – FarmWorks mapping program and Trimble Easy Steer guidance. All data is mapped on an iPad in real time, along with the direction of the planter. They work with Dan Flaherty, a precision agriculture consultant and an expert on how to use precision data.
Another trusted partner is Jeff Hunt, who has full control over marketing their grain each year. "One of Jeff's strengths is to maximize the basis, he does all the cash marketing, utilizes options and spreads to manage price risk," explains Dennis.
The bottom line – Dennis Whitsitt builds relationships with people who have the expertise he needs as well as those who view their relationship as partnership founded on trust. His philosophy of working with trusted partners includes employees, consultants, and input suppliers.
"Basically, all I have to do is worry about the weather," quips Dennis.
Indiana Master Farmers: family is top priority – The Indiana Prairie Farmer Master Farmer Awards were presented during the farm management tour. Jim Mintert, new director of the Purdue Center for Commercial Agriculture, interviewed the winners to find out what makes a Master Farmer tick. Some common themes quickly emerged: they're willing to try new things and innovate; they respect others in the business and communicate well; they volunteer and step in to help when the community needs them. And they are extremely passionate about conservation. Most of all, though, family gets top priority.
Retrofit work lights – At the Hay and Forage Expo near Boone I shot photos of field demonstrations of mowing, tedding, raking, baling and hay handling and visited with exhibitors. An item not directly related to forages caught my attention – an LED work light. More than once the fragile incandescent bulbs I'd been using in my work light broke with even a slight bump. Only on the market since last fall, these new LED lights – especially if equipped with the heavy duty steel wire cage, should last forever.
In fact, Bill Meister banged the LED light on the counter top in his booth with no damage. "I've been doing this demo with this light since September," he noted.
I bought one of the new lights and replaced the old fixture on my shop light in about two minutes. I also like the fact that the fixture includes a magnet to help position the light where it will do the most good. It uses only 8 watts of energy, has no glass, is water resistant and is rated for 35,000 hours! If you are interested go to www.troublefreelighting.com or call 616-994-9970.
Water, water everywhere – Here in central Iowa we've had record amounts of rainfall. My heart sank this morning on the way to the office when I saw my neighbor's soybean field flooded. Actually, it' seep water as this field lays next to the levee on the Skunk River.
Of course, there are many more fields in Iowa completely flooded and even ruined by hail. Several thousand acres of Iowa crop fields may be lost to the recent storm, according to Chad Hart, an Iowa State University economist.
Those storms likely have affected crop fields in neighboring states as well. Too early to tell what the impact will be on yields and prices.