Monsanto's corn rootworm hybrids approved

Monsanto received final approval in late February for marketing its YieldGard Rootworm hybrids for control of corn rootworm. The long-awaited hybrid had cleared USDA and FDA approvals last year, and Monsanto was waiting only for final details from EPA on the hybrids' insect resistance management requirements. The company also has received approval from Japanese agencies for the hybrids and is continuing to pursue European Union approvals.

The new hybrids, in 95- to 114-day maturities, will be in limited supply this spring through Monsanto's DeKalb and Asgrow seed brands. J.C. Robinson Seeds, NC+ Hybrids and Fielder's Choice Direct also will offer corn hybrids with YieldGard rootworm protection.

Corn rootworm is considered corn's biggest pest, robbing it of millions of dollars in yields each year. Use of YieldGard hybrids should reduce the amount of insecticides applied to corn.

Wells Fargo purchases Telmark

Wells Fargo Financial Leasing, a subsidiary of Wells Fargo & Company, has purchased Telmark LLC, a rural commercial leasing company. Telmark brings $615 million in owned and managed lease receivables to Wells Fargo, which reports it owns more than $1.2 billion in lease receivables. Wells Fargo states the acquisition will help it reach rural markets in its 23 banking states. Telmark with 215 employees will continue to be based in Syracuse, NY.

Buy, sell, trade online

A new Internet site allows growers to sell grain through an online auction. The site www.Topcrops.net lets any company/farm sell goods through the auction. Buyers wishing to purchase goods also may post offers for potential sellers and receive counteroffers. Participants pay annual subscription fees depending on the services required. Lamar Feed and Grain Company, Lamar, MO, recently introduced the site.

AGCO closes Challenger plant

AGCO Corporation says it is closing its track tractor factory in DeKalb, IL, which assembles Challenger track tractors in the 235- to 500-hp range. The company says it may relocate production to one of its current facilities in either Jackson, MN, or Hesston, KS.

AGCO acquired the DeKalb plant from Caterpillar Inc. in March 2002. AGCO says current and forecasted production levels are not sufficient to support a stand-alone tractor site that currently runs at approximately 20% capacity.

Production at the DeKalb assembly plant will cease by late May 2003, with production to be relocated and resumed in July 2003.

CNH reduces debt

CNH Global announced that its board of directors approved plans to reduce the company's net debt by $2 billion through the issuance of convertible perpetual preferred securities to a financial affiliate of CNH's majority shareholder, Fiat SpA. The company expects to use the proceeds of the transaction to repay equipment operations debt owed to Fiat Group companies.

By retiring $2 billion of equipment operations debt coming due through 2005, CNH gains financial liquidity. Of the total debt being repaid, $1.3 billion matures in 2003. Interest expense should be reduced by nearly $100 million on an annual pre-tax basis.

Concurrent with the issuance of preferred securities to Fiat, CNH will implement a one-for-five reverse split of the company's common stock. Both transactions are expected to be effective early this month. CNH's consolidated debt at December 31, 2002, stood at $7.9 billion.

Higher N prices

Growers should expect higher nitrogen prices this spring for any supplies they haven't pre-purchased. They also may face fertilizer shortages. Natural gas prices spiked in February, leading to concerns that the production of nitrogen for fertilizer that requires natural gas also will spike. During the last big jump in natural gas prices during 2000-01, nitrogen production slowed due to the high cost. It took about eight months for prices to return to normal. Producers also should expect higher prices for corn drying and fuel for irrigation.

Some ag analysts speculate that corn acres will be cut back if nitrogen prices continue to increase.