STEVE AYERS is known as “The Ag Guy” in Champaign County, IL. With a master's degree in extension education, he gives live agricultural updates on his local CBS TV affiliate, WCIA Channel 3, during the Friday Morning Show at 5:45 a.m.

“Host Anne Dill and I talk about local, state, national and international ag news,” Ayers says.

Off the air he works as farm business management and marketing extension educator for the University of Illinois. Ayers also farms 964 acres west of Champaign in Piatt County.

Farm Industry News asked Ayers for his honest take on everything from favorite farm products to what manufacturers need to improve.

How are you staying competitive on your farm?

No-till technology. We started no-tilling in the mid-'80s. Since then we've switched from no-till to strip-till. In the early '90s before strip-tilling, we had two years in five that planting was delayed by excess moisture and cool temperatures. Strip-tilling helps to warm up the soil earlier and give the seed a jump start.

What equipment do you use for that?

We use a 12-row, 30-in. DMI anhydrous rig in the fall in soybean stubble after the soil temperature drops below 50°. The mole knife injects the anhydrous with N-serve into the soil, and covering discs leave the soil black for next spring. The following spring we follow up with our 12-row planter, and the corn goes into the warm, dry soil.

What is the best product you bought for your farm in recent years?

We bought a used Honda Recon, which is a one-person, 4-wd ATV with a little 20-gal. spot sprayer. It works very well in soybean fields and along fence lines. This fall we purchased a new Case IH 2206 corn head that we are quite happy with. It is easy to maintain and adjust.

What's your best advice when buying farm inputs?

You can't always buy the cheapest. One major consideration on a purchase decision relates to the service component. Timing is essential for any operation. If our machine goes down, can we get a replacement to use until repaired? We also take advantage of preseason dealer checkups so the equipment is field ready.

What bugs you about the industry?

My concern is what has happened to pride in workmanship in farm machinery. We spend six figures on a piece of equipment we use five weeks a year, and the individuals on the assembly line could care less about the end user. Despite ISO 9000 and all the other manufacturing quality initiatives, a machine can go out with a belt that's incorrectly installed.

How do you stay up on new farming technologies?

I rely on magazines, the Internet and information we gather at the University of Illinois. Extension is always putting out timely bulletins affecting growers [www.extension.uiuc.edu]. Our Integrated Pest Management Web site [wwww.ipm.uiuc.edu] gives weekly updates on what to watch for during scouting. And Farmdoc [www.farmdoc.uiuc.edu] is a farm business management Web site designed to help farmers with decision making. It gives you access to databases and Microsoft Excel spreadsheets to analyze the cost of different investment decisions.

Finally, what is a farmer's biggest indicator of success?

I always say we “attempt” to farm as we control about 10% of our success and the other 90% is out of our hands. Risk management and marketing are now critical as our input costs are ballooning. Field crop scouting is essential during the season. A commitment to lifelong learning is also essential for success.

Field crop scouting is essential during the season. We follow the weekly “University of Illinois Extension Bulletin of Pest Management and Crop Development,” so we are aware of the pest, disease and crop development issues to scout for each week as the crop evolves. We dodged the bullet this year with Asian soybean rust, but it is just a question of when and not if it will descend upon us.

STEVE AYERS' INPUT LINEUP

Machinery: Case IH 7220 tractor, 2377 Case IH combine, Case IH 900 planter, Great Plains 2010P no-till drill

Seed: FS (Growmark) 5632, 5634BT, 6485BT, 6684BT; Wyffels 5483, 7273; and DeKalb 6143 for corn. Roundup Ready 3236, 3536, and 3726 for soybeans.