As unbelievable as it seems in this day and age, sometimes you can get more than what you pay for. Consider the information you need about crops, insects, weed control and weather, for instance. A lot of practical, insightful, downright good stuff is available on the Web at a price you can't beat: It's often free. Typically, the only price you pay is the time you invest in finding and perusing those sites that routinely provide information specific to your operation.

Here's a quick look at some sites you might want to review before spring rolls around and another planting season begins.

University extension sites

Some of the sites generated and maintained by universities are so valuable farmers are accessing them weekly during the summer months, and for good reason. Often, on a statewide basis, many university extension agronomists are scouting crops and reporting their findings on the Web. Such information can help you make timely decisions about weed control or pest management practices.

In addition to reports provided on their Web sites, many of the land-grant universities issue timely crop newsletters and bulletins with ag information specifically for their states.

One of the most well-received and respected newsletters, the Illinois Pest Management and Crop Development Bulletin, addresses plant diseases, insects, weeds and crop development on a weekly basis. The publication is provided as a free service to farmers and is funded by the Illinois Council on Food and Agricultural Research. You can find out more about the Illinois newsletter and other agronomic information at www.ag.uiuc.edu/cespubs/pest. This newsletter, like many that are now available, offers a subscriber function that allows you to sign up to receive the publication automatically via e-mail whenever one is produced.

State ag information

In Indiana, Purdue University offers a Web page that lists a series of links to agriculture-based information, including newsletters, news releases and even virtual coffee-shop talk. You can access this page at www.agry.purdue.edu/ext/timely.htm. Links include access to the Indiana crop and weather reports and to Ag Answers, a newly revised electronic source for research-based, objective information provided by the cooperative efforts of the extension services in both Indiana and Ohio.

For Nebraska, one of the best sites for farmers is found at lancaster.unl.edu/ag/NebrFacts.html. This page lists a large number of links that provide a gateway to a wide range of ag-related sites, including several University of Nebraska and agricultural association sites.

Iowa university-based agronomic information is available at www.ipm.iastate.edu/ipm/icm. Agronomic resources and information for Minnesota are available at www.extension.umn.edu/Farm.

These are just a smattering of the excellent university Web sites available to crop producers. To find more, simply use a search engine to locate the sites of interest and value to you. Search engines such as Google (www.Google.com), AltaVista and Yahoo can help you locate the resources you need.

Company-created sites

For good agronomic information generated by a pharmaceutical company, check out this new site: www.corntrack.com. Corntrack was implemented last spring and is sponsored by Syngenta. It is updated regularly during the growing season and, when situations warrant, offers breaking news on agronomic issues as well.

Also, just this past fall several seed and chemical manufacturers and one grower group revamped their Web sites to provide more useful information to growers. Bayer Crop Protection and Mycogen Seeds are improving their online offerings in a bid to become more helpful to customers. Also, the National Corn Growers Association has expanded its Know Before You Grow site at www.ncga.com.

Crop protection

Bayer Corporation's crop protection Web site is at uscrop.bayer.com. This newly revised site offers current, detailed information about company products and services. It was designed according to customer suggestions. The site includes a resource center for Bayer newsletters, links to industry sites and a crop center with product use guides and information on protecting crops from damaging pests.

From time to time, check out other sites based on crop protection information. Monsanto recently revamped its site, www.farmsource.com, which is one of agriculture's most popular Web sites. Farmsource can update you on Monsanto products and programs, and it also offers links to agricultural news outlets.

As farmers become increasingly comfortable surfing the Net and accessing the wealth of information available, you can expect agribusiness companies to increase their efforts to accommodate the needs of their customers through the use of this convenient tool. However, if you are unsure whether the manufacturer of the products and services you use maintains a Web site, you can always use an old-fashioned but reliable means to find out: the telephone. Happy surfing.