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A boost from boron

Written by Jason Worthington on .

Aspire is a new fertilizer product from Mosaic with an analysis of 0-0-58-0.5. In simple terms, Aspire is muriate of potash with the addition of boron. The boron is homogeneously added before the product is prilled, making for more uniform distribution and less settling problems than standard fertilizer blends containing boron. Boron may get less attention than many plant nutrients because it is a micronutrient. It is required at much lower levels than nutrients like N,P and K. However, like all of the 17 essential nutrients for plant growth and development, without boron, plants won’t grow.

In the plant 90 percent of boron is found within the cell walls. Boron plays an important role in a cell wall’s ability to expand. A boron deficiency will exhibit itself via shortened and thickened cell walls. Boron is also in high demand during cell elongation of reproductive tissue during rapid growth. It is important that the plant have access to boron from soil reserves during reproductive stages because boron is not phloem mobile and is immobile in the plant. Dicot species such as alfalfa and cotton use higher rates of boron. You’ll more often see noticeable responses to boron fertilization in these crops.

In the soil, boron typically has either a neutral or negative charge making it prone to loss through soil leaching. Most available boron in the soil comes from mineralization of organic matter. Common areas where one will see boron deficiency are in coarse soils with low organic matter.

One of the greatest challenges of boron fertilization is the narrow window between deficiency of boron and toxicity. Even on crops like alfalfa it is not advisable to exceed 2 pounds of boron per acre to avoid boron toxicity. Even distribution of nutrients at rates below 2 pounds can be extremely difficult to achieve in typical blends. With the danger of toxicity from over fertilization and the challenges of even distribution of low rates of fertilizer, a homogeneously blended product like Aspire might have a distinct advantage.

2014 Aspire Trial Summary

As mentioned above, boron fertilization on deficient soil and on crops such as alfalfa and cotton is common. However, the benefits of added boron for crops like corn and soybean has been debated. To test Mosaic’s Aspire (0-0-58-0.5B) on corn and soybeans, MFA’s Crop-Trak consultants across western Missouri and southeast Kansas set up, monitored and collected harvest data from farmer trials. To test the effect of the boron in the Aspire versus the standard treatment of MOP (0-0-60), actual rates of potassium were kept equal across the two treatments. In most cases the majority of the field was treated with 0-0-60 as the K source and at least 20 acres of the field were treated with Aspire. To collect the data, consultants used weigh wagons to measure adjacent combine passes along the dividing line of the treatments, or the preferred method of the grower’s calibrated yield monitor. Use of yield maps allowed consultants to analyze results from both treatments in comparable areas of the field.

30 trials were conducted. Of those 30, we were able to successfully collect 20 data sets: 10 corn and 10 soybean (see tables 1 and 2).

On average Aspire showed a 5.33 bushel-per-acre advantage in corn with positive yield responses in 8 of the 10 trials. Those 8 trials also showed a return on investment over the breakeven point of 1.35 bushels per acre. The soybean trend was similar to the results in corn (see figure 3).

Soybean yield from the Aspire treatment yielded 2.85 bushels per acre better on average with 9 of 10 showing a positive response and 7 of 10 responding greater than the 0.5 bushels per acre breakeven (see figure 4).

After one year of large-strip testing, the initial results look very promising for Aspire as a method of boron fertilization. MFA plans to continue another year of testing Aspire in 2015. From the 2014 trials, we have already begun carrying the product at multiple locations for sale this crop year.

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New technology brings promise and challenges

Written by Dr. Jason Weirich on .

Dicamba- and 2,4-D-resistant crops are here. 

I wouldn’t be considered a weed scientist if I didn’t write about weed control in at least one of my springtime columns. The past few months were exciting for new cropping technologies. Monsanto received EPA approval for its Xtend-branded product. And DOW was approved to sell Enlist cropping technologies. These soybean systems will provide additional tools for growers to diversify their crop protection plans.

Monsanto’s Xtend provides soybean tolerance to dicamba. DOW’s Enlist provides tolerance to 2,4-D. Both of these technologies are a tool for your toolbox. However, these technologies are not a silver bullet. If you expect another glyphosate-like system, you will be disappointed. As with any new technology, there are challenges and hurdles to overcome as they are implemented. Both DOW and Monsanto are working closely with China to get approval for these technologies. Aside from international approval and regulatory efforts, the companies will work closely with retailers and producers to make sure everyone is educated on the new system. That’s going to be important as these crops come to the field.

MFA operates a large fleet of custom-application rigs. As hired applicators, we see some risk from these new products.

Let me explain that: I don’t see new and original risks, but risks that will return as more significant than
they’ve been in the recent past.  Everyone will need to be wary of off-target movement, volatility, tank contamination and misapplication—just to name a few.

MFA has implemented an applicator training program for all of our custom applicators. The program educates our employees on proper application techniques, mixing, risk management and adjuvant selection. Off-target movement is taken seriously at MFA. With any crop protection application, the target area must be evaluated and proper techniques applied to reduce off-target movement. At MFA, we use Driftwatch.org at most locations to make sure we are aware of any susceptible crops grown close to our customers’ field. If you are applying your own crop-protection products, consider looking at this site. It’s a good resource.

Both Monsanto and DOW have made significant strides to reduce volatility in their crop-protection products. When most people think of dicamba, they think of Banvel and 2,4-D as an amine. That is not the case with either of these new products. For Xtend, Monsanto uses dicamba with Vapor Grip technologies. DOW uses 2,4-D choline for Enlist. Both products reduce volatility when applied within the guidelines and labels from the respective companies. You’ll still need to watch spray-day weather and be smart about application timing.

One thing that will require extra vigilance from anyone applying these new products is tank and sprayer hygiene. Tank contamination is a big concern. You can no longer have any solution left in the sprayer when you go to the next field. If you mix the herbicides and put them on the wrong field, significant yield loss can result. Think back to the late 90s when Roundup Ready cropping systems were just coming out. “What was a major concern? What did my neighbor plant? Will it drift?” And so forth. These are the same concerns that will be in the air, so to speak, as these new products move forward. We’ll have to work together to have the right answers to these questions. Communication will be critical with these cropping systems.

Have a look at the photos that accompany this article. That’s what a tank contamination error will look like. The photos were taken 24 hours after treatment. However, two weeks after application, damage from dicamba was significantly worse than 2,4-D. Either way, all applications resulted in a total loss of beans by harvest. So even small amounts of contamination can result in a total loss of your crop.

At the beginning of this article, I mentioned that new crop-protection technology is no silver bullet. That is correct. It will remain correct. In fact, if you think about the chemistries that now have resistance, I think it is fair to say that it has always been correct. It’s still best to use preemerge herbicides with an overlapping residual. I think one of the greatest utilities of both Extend and Enlist technologies is the burndown market. The ability to spray Xtend or Enlist, then come back and plant with no restrictions will be a good opportunity. This will allow you to make sure you start with a field free of weeds. Starting clean has been a struggle in some areas of our trade territory every year. Once a crop is planted, your herbicide options are limited. In fields where marestail or giant ragweed have emerged at planting you can plan for the weeds to be there at harvest, spreading seed for next year.

These new chemistries bring excitment and concern at the same time. The technology that has been approved gives you another option, but also has baggage that comes with it. MFA is striving to train our applicators and managers about these new technologies. If you have any questions please contact your local store for more details on the technologies or how MFA is training our applicators.

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What we learned from Training Camp and MFA replicated plots

Written by Adam Noellsch & Jason Worthington on .

In the 2014 growing season, more than 700 MFA employees, ag industry personnel and growers toured MFA’s Training Camp test plot. We had two events, MFA’s Third Annual Training Camp and MFA’s Annual Grower Field Day. The continued attendance of these events is just one indicator of MFA’s commitment to employee development and education of not just its staff but its patrons as well.

MFA’s Training Camp gives MFA employees an opportunity to get hands-on participation in our testing and product evaluation process. Employees viewed trials on MorCorn and MorSoy varieties, fertility and seed treatments, as well as heard presentations from experts on sprayer clean-out, weed control technologies and the latest information on premium fertilizer products.
2014 was the first time MFA also extended invitations to growers to visit the testing grounds. MFA locations from all over MFA’s trade territory brought producers in to witness the process in which MFA tests and evaluates products. These growers saw presentations from MFA’s agronomy staff, industry reps and university personnel. Hopefully, this information helps inform them on agronomic management going forward.

Beyond the educational opportunities these field days provided, multiple replicated testing sites across MFA’s trade territory delivered data vital for product improvement and evaluation. On the following pages, you will find summaries and results of the various trials conducted at the Training Camp site in Boonville, Mo., in 2014.

MorCorn hybrid trials
The 2014 Training Camp started April 21 with the planting of the short-season and full-season MorCorn variety trials. These trials included 25 hybrids spanning from 99-day corn relative maturity (CRM) to 119 CRM. We tested 17 experimentals against six MorCorn commercial checks and two competitor hybrids. The field was fertilized with 220 pounds of actual N in the form of Super U. The population was planted to 34,000 plants per acre. Yields were impressive for a second year in a row at Training Camp. Our top end hit 272 bushels per acre with an experimental hybrid. Dragging the bottom was a commercial competitor at 211 bushels per acre. The low end was indicative of the excellent growing year we enjoyed.

Although yields were exceptional, they were not up to the level we saw in 2013. One reason for this may have been slow emergence. The 2014 corn in the Boonville Missouri River bottoms made us nervous. The night after planting, the field received a pounding rain producing a crust on the surface. Then it got cold. For weeks we checked, waited, watched and dug up seedlings that were struggling to emerge. Finally after three weeks, seedlings broke the surface and started growing. It was amazing to see the stand come up strong after the initial harsh conditions.

Another factor during the 2014 growing season was an abundance of moisture. Training Camp has highly productive soils, but it is in a floodplain that can pond water. Throughout the season, our trials were in standing water for long periods of time, which may have caused a high amount of denitrification and N loss. That may have reduced our top-end yield potential.

In addition to Training Camp, these hybrids were tested across multiple environments and geographies within MFA’s trade territory. Results from this year’s MorCorn Training Camp trials can be seen in the tables at right.

Corn nitrogen source and timing trial
In order to evaluate the effects of the formulation of N applied treatments, we looked at urea, ammonium nitrate, and products know to be effective N stabilizers to urea. These products were applied in a replicated trial. Additionally, to test the effects application timing, each product was applied on two different dates, either at planting or at the V6 growth stage of the corn.

Statistically there are not a lot of conclusions we can make from this trial. Nitrification inhibition from Instinct at planting looked to be beneficial. But ESN’s slow availability showed to have been a possible detriment in this trial when applied alone. ESN is recommended to be applied with 10 to 20 percent of available nitrogen. This year N timing did not appear to be a major factor when looking at the data, but it is important to remember the unpredictable weather conditions of each unique year play a major factor on how much N may be lost.

Fungicide trial
Higher-than-normal precipitation and good growing conditions were pervasive across the Corn Belt this year. The assumption made by most agronomists halfway through the season was that corn foliar diseases would be a big issue. However, that did not turn out to be the case. Even though we did see some level of common foliar diseases, including common rust, southern rust, gray leaf spot and northern corn leaf blight, the level of infestation was generally moderate at most. This was also true at Training Camp. These foliar diseases were present, but their severity was low.

The Training Camp Fungicide Trial consisted of two treatment application timings—either at V6 or at VT. We also looked at four different fungicides. All four fungicides were premix formulations that combine both a Group 3 and a Group 14 mode of action. Results from the trial are below.

Generally, we do not recommend a fungicide application at V6. University research has shown that the best corn fungicide timing is at VT. Guidelines have been established by Iowa State University to aid in the decision to spray. These guidelines are based on whether or not the disease presence warrants spraying to prevent potential yield loss. They are as follows:

Consider a fungicide application if:

1) The hybrid is rated as “susceptible” or “moderately susceptible” and 50 percent of the plants in a field have disease lesions present on the third leaf below the ear leaf or higher prior to tasseling.

2) The hybrid is rated as “moderately resistant” and 50 percent of the plants in a field have disease lesions present on the third leaf below the ear leaf or higher prior to tasseling and additional factors or conditions that favor disease development are present.

If you decide to use a fungicide, another good practice is to use a premix product or tank mix multiple modes of action. Similar to weed resistance with herbicides, there has been documented pathogen resistance to Group 3 (DMI) fungicides. Always follow recommended label rates and application directions.

MorSoy soybean variety trial
MFA’s trade territory is diverse in terms of cropping practices, and that can be illustrated Click to viewby the diversity in the MorSoy soybean lineup. MFA’s producers will grow soybean maturity groups as early as a 3.4 maturity in the north and as late as a 5.6 maturity in the south—with everything in between. Additionally, MFA offers both RoundUp Ready 2 Yield technology with their MorSoy Xtra as well as Liberty Link MorSoy as choices in the lineup. This diversity is an asset, but presents a challenge when testing. In order to make effective comparisons, we established six separate trials. Three MorSoy Xtra variety trials were set up evaluating soybeans ranging in maturity from 3.4 to 3.8 in the first; 3.7 to 4.7 in the second; and 4.7 to 5.6 in the third. Similarly, three MorSoy Liberty Link trials were developed testing maturities from 3.2 to 3.9 in the first; 3.7 to 4.7 in the second; and 4.7 to 5.2 in the third. Results of all six trials are listed at right.

It is important to keep in mind that when reviewing this data that typical soybean maturities in Boonville, Mo., range from a late Group III to an early Group IV. Also of note was the high incidence of Sudden Death Syndrome in the soybean plot this year. While this did allow for an opportunity to evaluate a varieties tolerance to SDS, abnormally high levels of SDS impacted the testing of varieties for yield potential. Results could be quite different in a year with more typical SDS levels.

Agricultural biologicals
Just a few years ago you would probably get a confused look if you mentioned biologicals to someone in agriculture. They might think you were referring to biotechnology. That’s not the case anymore. Now, the agricultural industry as a whole is investing major resources into researching and developing new biological products.
Part of the allure for biologicals in agriculture is the fact that they do not involve transgenes or genetic engineering. Biologicals may be plant extracts, naturally occurring microorganisms or other types of organic matter. Note the word “natural.” This means products may be deregulated more quickly than, say, a new trait in soybeans. Bringing biologicals to market is less time consuming and requires a lower level of investment.

In the past, biologicals sometimes have been viewed as “snake oil” products. However, in today’s market, an increasing amount of research is being conducted on biologicals to determine what works and what doesn’t. Companies like Syngenta and BASF are purchasing companies that specialize in biologicals. Monsanto has formed the BioAg alliance with Novozymes. This may not give instant credibility to these products, but it certainly shows that they aren’t going away anytime soon.

MFA is testing biologicals to make sure we stay ahead of the game. This year at Training Camp we looked at biological soybean seed treatments from Novozymes. One product that stood out to us was Cue. Cue is a plant-signal compound for soybeans. Cue improves root structure by activating fungi in the root zone before the plant can do it by itself, thus enhancing water and nutrient uptake. Results from our trial can be seen at left.

Soybean nitrogen trial
Results from fertilizing soybeans with nitrogen fertilizer have been mixed. High-yield environments may give the best chance at producing a yield increase from adding N, but in certain conditions in low yielding environments may produce a positive response to N fertilizer. The International Plant Nutrition Institute reports that poor nodulation, low soil N, plant water stress, absence of Bradyrhizobium and other early season stresses may be conditions promoting a positive yield response to N fertilizer. While some research has shown a positive yield response to N fertilizer during vegetative growth, most studies point to application at or just after R3 (beginning pod) as the optimal application timing.

During the 2014 growing season at Training Camp, we conducted a trial with an R3 application of Super U to soybeans at six different rates, plus a check of no added N. Our results (shown at right) indicate that we did not receive a yield response from the fertilizer. The application timing coincided with a lack of rainfall for about two weeks post application. By the time it rained enough to move the fertilizer into the soil making it available to the plants, we were possibly past the time it could provide much benefit to the soybean yield.

Using N fertilizer in soybeans may be a practice you wish to consider down the road. When evaluating whether or not to proceed with an application, be sure to consider yield potential, current soybean health, fertilizer and commodity prices to see how much you stand to gain from an application.

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Cover crops and the scrutiny on crop nutrients

Written by Adam Noellsch on .

Far from old-fashioned, cover crops are one tool to keep nutrients in the field.

Focus on crop nutrient use efficiency by the government and the agricultural industry is on the rise. In fact, nutrient use efficiency has earned its own acronym—NUE. With a new focus on NUE from the feds, it is important for producers to understand how to make sure applied nutrients end up where they’re supposed to—in the plant, not lost to watersheds. Nutrient programs like the 4 Rs (right rate, right timing, right source and right place) are backed by The Fertilizer Institute, The International Plant Nutrition Institute, The International Fertilizer Industry Association and the Canadian Fertilizer Institute. The focus on efficiency is here to stay.

Cover crops are an old method for increasing crop NUE, and they have been a hot topic for the past few years. USDA-NRCS and local conservation departments are encouraging cover crops. Cover crop meetings across the country feature farmer cover-crop success stories. Typically, the benefits of using cover crops are described in terms of soil health and quality. Improving soil health and soil quality should lead to a better overall crop-growth environment that increases efficient use of applied and available plant nutrients. These are good talking points, but understanding how cover crop systems can be used in a crop rotation to get these soil-improving benefits can be a challenge.

The first thing to do when planning a cover crop system is to set goals. Is reducing soil erosion your main goal? Or is weed control or nitrogen fixation by legumes? What about reducing compaction? A couple of years ago, the Conservation Technology Information Center surveyed 700 growers to see what goals farmers assigned to their cover crops. Farmers where also asked about the benefits they had experienced from cover crops as well as their biggest cover crop challenges.

Most respondents wanted to reduce soil compaction and erosion. Following that, in order, goals were: nitrogen scavenging, weed control, yield increases and nitrogen fixation.
According to farmers who answered the survey, the biggest challenges to using cover crops were establishment, time, species selection and seed costs. These surveys help whittle down what most people desire from using cover crops and the perceived challenges involved. Visit www.sare.org for more information on this survey and a full analysis.
It is important to use local extension and agronomists to help you implement a cover crop system. Also, talking to other producers with experience in cover crops can be beneficial. Attending cover crop conferences and trainings will help, but may also be an overwhelming informational experience. Be sure to focus on what your personal goals are. Talk to as many experts as you can.

Cover crop considerations:
1. Do not plant corn after a cereal rye cover crop. This is an issue that has been debated. Some growers have attested to growing corn after cereal rye. They say that as long as the cereal rye is killed at least two weeks prior to corn planting, they have seen no reduction in yield. However, others have had experience with cereal rye causing an allelopathic effect on corn that caused yield reduction.

My recommendation is to avoid cereal rye before corn. Use a different cover crop to avoid the risk of a yield hit. Additionally, if cereal rye is used before going into a non-corn crop, make sure the cereal rye is killed off at least two weeks prior to planting the crop.

2. Do not use annual ryegrass/marshall ryegrass/Italian ryegrass as a cover crop in a cropping system. Annual ryegrass is very good at reducing soil compaction and erosion; however, it is becoming resistant to glyphosate and can be tough to kill. While this may be an excellent choice for use in pastures, it is one to avoid in corn/soybean systems.

3. Inoculate legumes with the correct inoculum. Various legumes can be used as cover crops (crimson clover, berseem clover, alsike clover, red clover, hairy vetch, sunn hemp, etc.). Each legume needs a specific strain of rhizobia bacteria. Make sure to inoculate with the correct strain for the legume being used.

4. Make sure your soil test NPK levels are adequate to support growth of the cover crop and your regular crop. If soil test levels are not where they should be, the cover crop will not grow nor do the job you want it to. In turn, you may reduce nutrient availability for your cash crop by allowing the cover crop to take up nutrients that would have otherwise been used by your regular crop. In some cases, nutrient scavenging may be the goal, but you should still make sure you know your soil fertility to pick the best cover crop. 

5. In general, you will need 40 to 60 days of growth before a killing frost to maximize cover crop biomass production. Planting a cover crop too late may result in a poor or non established cover crop. Planting too early in some years may result in too much growth and nutrient/water uptake. Know proper planting timing for your cover crop mix and realize that not every year is going to be the same. A safe bet with cover crops is to plant species that will winterkill. If the winterkill mix is well-established and good growth is achieved for a couple of months, you will most likely add organic matter to the soil and provide cover to help reduce erosion. Additionally, you may see benefits from weed suppression and possibly improved soil health in general.

The last thing to think about when implementing cover crops is to remember that it is probably not going to be a one-year fix. Increasing soil organic matter and improving soil structure take many years. Some benefits like fixing nitrogen and scavenging nutrients may be achieved in the short term, but for overall soil health and quality improvement, long-term strategies for using cover crops and cash crop rotation will be required. The best thing to do is keep learning and keep experimenting with different mixes to see what works best on your farm.

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Keep nitrogen where you put it

Written by Dr. Jason Weirich on .

Nitrogen inhibitors have a financial and environmental benefit. 

By now I am sure you have heard that MFA will no longer handle ammonium nitrate. In light of that news, let’s talk about nitrogen management. 

Nitrogen can be lost from the crop system through volatilization, leaching and denitrification. To increase nitrogen use efficiency, you can employ enhanced fertilizer products to delay or stop these losses. Here is how it works.

Volatilization
Urea-based fertilizer products are subject to volatilization losses if surface-applied and not incorporated by rainfall or mechanically. The risk of volatilization loss increases with high residue, warm weather and high soil pH levels. Sources subject to volatilization losses include dry urea and UAN solution. 

Urease inhibitors can be used to temporarily block the urease enzyme from converting urea to ammonia (NH3). The only proven urease inhibitor on the market today is NBPT, which is marketed as Agrotain. 

Leaching and Denitrification 
Ammonium (NH4+) sources in the soil go through a process called nitrification. Ammonium is converted to nitrite (NO2-) by nitrosomonas bacteria, and nitrite is further oxidized to nitrate (NO3-) by nitrobacter bacteria. A majority of the nitrogen taken up by the plant is in the nitrate form, however most plants can also take up ammonium (NH4+). Once in the nitrate form, the nitrogen is subject to leaching and denitrification losses. Nitrate moves freely throughout the soil profile with moisture. In coarse textured, well-drained soils, nitrate can leach below the root zone and become unavailable to the crop. Nitrate is also subject to denitrification losses. Denitrification occurs in soils that become waterlogged. It’s a biological process that converts nitrate to gaseous forms of nitrogen that are lost to the atmosphere. 

Nitrification inhibitors reduce the rate at which ammonium is converted to nitrate by killing the nitrosomonas bacteria in the soil. Nitrification inhibitors are designed to keep the nitrogen in the ammonium form longer so plants have the opportunity to take up the nitrogen before excessive moisture occurs and nitrogen is lost from the system.

Currently there are two proven nitrification inhibitors on the market. Nitapyrin has been used since the 1960s. Nitrapyrin is marketed as N-Serve and most recently as Instinct, an encapsulated product for dry and liquid fertilizers. Instinct can also be used in liquid manure. 

The other proven nitrification inhibitor on the market is dicyandiamide (DCD). DCD is the nitrification inhibitor in Agrotain Plus and Super U. Research has shown that DCD activity is shorter than nitrapyrin (Bronson et al., 1989). Proven products that contain both a nitrification and urease inhibitor include Super U and Agrotain Plus.

From a cost perspective and environmental perspective, you need to protect all sources of nitrogen from loss. In next month’s crop section we’ll cover the importance of N-Serve use in fall and spring applications of anhydrous ammonia. If you have any questions please contact your local MFA location.

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