CLUELESS ON WIRELESS

BEING “ON” ALL THE TIME OVERWHELMS PERSONAL BANDWIDTH

I'M NOT exactly comfortable with this wireless revolution people keep talking about. My cell phone is an ancient boat anchor that my wife discarded four years ago when she got a slick new digital flip phone. The hand-me-down phone resides, turned off, in the glove compartment of my old Buick LeSabre. I've kept it for emergencies, which I have never had, and for calling my wife or next appointment to apologize that I am running late, which seems to be most of the time. In a more patient society, I wouldn't need the cell phone at all. And if it weren't for the Highway Patrol, I'd just get a faster car.

But lately, more people keep asking me for my cell phone number so they can reach me when I'm at trade shows and field events in various parts of the country. They look skeptical when I tell them that I don't keep my cell phone on or that I don't even take it with me out of state because my ultra-cheap monthly plan only covers a tri-county area in and around greater Minneapolis.

It's as if friends and colleagues are pressuring me to join a cult of always-on wireless collective consciousness. These well-intentioned devotees say I need to get something called a 3G (3rd generation) wireless phone so I can not only talk with people around the world all of the time, but also talk via built-in walkie-talkie, text message with my thumbs, take and send photos, download software, surf the Internet and check e-mail. To me, this all just seems like way too much virtual social interaction.

My resistance may be futile, though. Even Trimble is jumping into the wireless phone business. The maker of global positioning systems (a different and more useful type of wireless technology) recently announced that it has entered into a research agreement that will cost-effectively put accurate GPS tracking devices into new 3G phones. I suppose that's a good thing.

Wireless networks on farms also show a lot of promise. Turn to page 6 to see how innovative farmers are using wireless Internet in their homes, shops and even their tractors.

BUDGET PAIN

PRESIDENT PROPOSES DROP IN SUBSIDY CAP

Representatives of Congress and state governors both Republican and Democrat are hoping to defend price supports and 28 agriculture programs that President Bush wants to either cut or abolish in the 2006 budget. Bush says trimming “non-security” spending is necessary to deal with the country's growing budget deficit, which this year may be another $427 billion. Democrats generally blame the deficit on Bush's aggressive tax cuts for the wealthy, while Republicans point to the recession and the ongoing war on terror.

In all, the president has proposed serious cuts or elimination of more than 154 government programs to save $15.3 billion. Agriculture is toward the top of the hit list. In addition to the 28 program cuts, which range from research to conservation programs and rural firefighter grants, the biggest impact on high-acreage cash grain farms would be the administration's proposed 5% across-the-board cut in price supports for crops and a reduction from $360,000 to $250,000 in the annual cap on subsidies that farmers can receive. The administration also points out that some of the largest farms already evade the current limit by dividing farms into several separate corporate entities. The proposed budget refers to seeking some way to eliminate that practice.

In a counterpoint letter to Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, a coalition of more than 100 organizations led by the American Farm Bureau Federation, said that Congress, in the 2002 bill that authorized farm subsidies for seven more years, had already cut subsidies by $4 billion a year by imposing the $360,000 cap.

MONSANTO GROWS

Monsanto announced plans this winter to purchase two major seed companies outside the corn/soybean industries. It plans to pay more than $1 billion for Seminis, a vegetable and fruit seed company from Oxnard, CA, and another $300 million for Emergent Genetics, a company that holds 12% of the U.S. cotton seed market.

Hugh Grant, Monsanto CEO, reports that these purchases will allow Monsanto to “accelerate our growth.” Apparently Monsanto wants to be a major player in the cotton market. The announcement that Monsanto just received U.S. regulatory approval for the next generation of Roundup- resistant cotton should help the St. Louis-based company reach that goal.

CNH/UAW DISPUTE ENDS

A months-long labor dispute and worker lockout have apparently ended with a new contract. CNH Global, maker of Case IH and New Holland farm equipment, announced that an agreement has been ratified between the company and the United Auto Workers (UAW) union. Workers got the call to return to work in late March.

The UAW represents about 650 CNH workers — just a fraction of the CNH payroll — at four locations. Most of these employees work in Racine, WI, and Burlington, IA, making farm tractors and backhoe loaders. Another 33 workers are at a parts distribution center in St. Paul, MN, and 11 technicians work at an engineering center in Burr Ridge, IL.