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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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Put back what you take

Written by Dr. Jason Weirich on .

Removal rates aren’t the same across your field

As we wrap up another cropping season, I hope that your year has been a success. As I write this in late August, for publication in October, I am hopeful for a record corn and soybean harvest. With record yield potential comes some management decisions you need to make prior to planting next year’s crop. Management decisions regarding soil fertility are critical to give your crop the potential for great yields again next year. In that sense, I believe MFA’s Nutri-Track program has a fit on all acres across our trade territory.

Nutri-Track is is designed to manage, maintain and track fertility levels across operations by combining GPS-based soil testing and yield monitoring. Whether you raise corn, soybean, wheat or forage, your soil’s nutrient levels are a critical factor in maximizing production. Nutri-Track has three unique stages that will fit any operations.

Stage 1: Intensive soil sampling
Nutri-Track’s 2.5-acre grid-sampling program will provide a baseline for your field’s nutrient levels and soil properties. This is essential to correct any underlying problems so that you can maximize yield. We also use this program for range and pasture ground to maximize forage production and grazing capacity.

Stage 2: Intensive soil sampling with yield monitor crop removal
MFA Nutri-Track techs combine the information they receive from the 2.5-acre grid samples with yield data to give you a tailored recommendation for your nutrient removal and build program. By using yield monitor data, you will no longer have to use a flat yield removal rate. Thus, in the future, you can apply the right amount of fertilizer to the right areas of your fields. You won’t be over-applying in low-producing areas of the field. You will boost production in areas that can support additional yield goal.

Stage 3: Yield monitor crop removal
This is perfect for fields that already have optimum fertility. You maintain those levels by replacing exactly what you have removed. This program is also a good fit for rented ground.

The question that I most often get is, “Why should I enroll in this program?”
We all know that each field has areas that out-yield the rest of the field. By employing the data analysis along with precision application, you can apply fertilizer with true variable-rate technology. You will get your nutrients to right spots in the field. The practice has proven itself.

The next question that I get is, “Through this program I will spend less money on nutrients, correct?”

That is not always the case. When I look at composite data from our precision techs, I see that growers are under fertilizing areas of the field and sometimes over fertilizing other areas. Cost might be a wash, but putting the nutrients where they are most efficiently used has the potential to boost yield.

This year looks to be one of the best we have seen in several years across our trade territory as a whole. I understand that there are parts of our trade territory that won’t see record yields. This program is still a fit for those acres. At MFA we support the 4 R’s: The Right fertilizer source,

Right rate, Right time, and Right place. As an industry, this is an important concept. Regulators and environmentalists scrutinize agriculture more each year. We need to manage our inputs and be good stewards.

MFA can help you develop a plan for all of your acres and make sure we are using your nutrients to the best of their ability for maximized profit.
Contact your local MFA location to make a nutrient management plan. It’s a good practice.

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Learning in the East

Written by Dr. Jason Weirich on .

ALOT Class XV is back from China

In July, I traveled to China with Agricultural Leadership of Tomorrow. ALOT is a two-year program that teaches its members leadership along with a deep exploration of Missouri agriculture and how it fits into the larger world. Members travel extensively in the state as well to Washington D.C. to visit with friends and foes of agriculture. The international trip is a capstone of sorts. ALOT is a great program, and I encourage anyone willing to commit the time to apply.

China wasn’t my first choice of countries to visit, but after our trip, I am glad that I did. I can’t believe some of the things I saw, heard and smelled on the trip.

We visited several production agriculture farms. Particularly interesting was a rice farm. It was a demonstration farm for rice production with fish and crab intercropping. The farm had a polywire fence around the field to keep the crabs in. Labor for a 2,000-acre rice farm had numbered about 1,200 workers, but with the new practices on demonstration there, managers have reduced the number of employees to 300. It may be a harbinger of things to come in rural China.

The most shocking thing I saw at this location was duck production. An elevated duck pen was situated above a water canal. Waste from the ducks dropped into the canal, which drained directly into the Yellow River. I don’t think this practice would survive long in the United States.

Our group visited a government-built community designed to house farmers. As a way to accommodate rural-to-urban migration, the government builds these communities along with schools and hospitals for the residents. As residents move into the community, they are given a small parcel of land to farm and one dairy cow. These farmers are also asked to work in a local factory or plant to provide additional income for their family.

We visited a prairie restoration site. Here, the Chinese government restored an over-grazed and wrecked prairie to its native vegetation. It was amazing to see the restoration job with the prairie back to green vegetation, but now there is no grazing on any of the land because officials do not want to destroy plants that have been re-established. Thus, animals are kept confined in this region. I would compare the area to southeast Colorado, a dry, short grass prairie.

One thing that I will remember from the trip was an explanation about chicken cage sizes. We were on an egg-layer farm. Because of the recent regulation changes in California for chicken cages, the plant manager for the facility reminded us that the number one goal of production agriculture in China is to feed the people. He said that obviously China has a lot of people to feed, so the regulations cannot be like those of California. Another interesting fact about this plant is that they use the waste to produce natural gas.

The Chinese are hard workers. On a number of occasions, our group saw workers sweeping interstates and roads with hand-made switch brooms. However, “The Company,” the Chinese government, is in control of everything. Citizens there would actually reference “The Company,” but we knew what they meant. At times we couldn’t help but wonder if it was all a planned and rehearsed tour. Either way, it was an eye-opening experience.

Overall, it was an educational trip for my ALOT class. I hope we can leverage it and our entire ALOT experience into a positive influence for agriculture in Missouri and the United States.

There’s more that I would like to tell you about ALOT and China than space allows here. If you see an ALOT class member, be sure to ask them about their experience. We all have important information to share. Applications for Class XVI of ALOT are due Sept. 15.

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