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Top performers: MFA applicators earn respect from customers and MFA

Written by Dr. Jason Weirich on .

In previous issues of Today’s Farmer, I’ve written about the challenging times ahead for weed control. We’re fighting weeds that evolve to resist whole families of chemistry. We’re lucky to have new crop protection technology to help with weed control, but they will bring challenges of their own. New herbicide systems such as Dicamba- and 2,4-D-tolerant soybeans will take increased oversight. With these systems, we expect high volumes of custom application. It will be paramount for whoever is spraying to understand the target crop’s surroundings. Tank clean-out procedures will take on new critical importance. Wind direction and speeds will factor heavily into where, when and how we spray. And there won’t be any leeway if the wrong field gets sprayed. At MFA, these are practices that we already pride ourselves in doing well. Still, they will become more challenging in the near future.

That’s why I want to take this space to celebrate some of our employees who take their job seriously and deliver real MFA service to our customers.

MFA had its second annual applicator training a few months ago. This training updates our applicators on the latest in spraying technique. Participants spend half a day to update their knowledge and learn about new procedures and technology.

One part of the program is to recognize our top applicators. We seek nominations from throughout the MFA trade territory to highlight custom applicators who really excel at their job and in their community. We use this program to propel nominations to a national competition sponsored by AGCO. The AGCO Operator of the Year is announced each year at the Agricultural Retailers Association annual meeting. It’s a popular program, with a lot of participation. And it is really tough to win. Aside from a trip to the ARA meeting, the AGCO Operator of the Year winner receives a top-end Harley Davidson or cash prize.

I don’t get to brag often enough on our applicators, so take a look at our 2014 MFA Incorporated Operator of the Year finalists. These are the guys that farmers request by name. They are doing a good job for you.

Region 1: Tim Hurst
AGCHOICE, ROCK PORT, MO.
YEARS OF SERVICE: 8
ANNUAL ACRES: ABOUT 71,000

AGChoice manager Jarod Graves said Hurst has been running custom application machines for a total of 16 years. “Tim will have everything on his machine in tip-top shape when he goes to the field.” As with most modern application rigs, Hurst has to be a good driver, but a computer technician as well, mastering RTK autopilot and multiple products. Aside from his mastery of the equipment, farmers trust Hurst for his instincts and agronomic knowledge. “Farms rely on him to make in-field decisions. Is it too muddy? Is there too much crop residue? Are rows sealing? When farmers know Tim makes these decisions correctly, it puts him in high demand.” Graves said there’s a simple way to describe Hurst: “He takes pride in what he does.”

In his spare time Hurst enjoys time with his three children. He likes to hunt and fish, especially with the kids, and he spends time following his son’s baseball team.

Region 2: Earl Huston
MFA AGRI SERVICES, CANTON, MO.
YEARS OF SERVICE: 38
ANNUAL ACRES: ABOUT 29,000

Canton MFA Agri Services manager Angela Schaller said, “Earl Huston is a hard working employee that I never have to worry about. I know he will take care of our customers.” Schaller added that Huston has a unique relationship with MFA customers. They call him personally to book fields that need fertilized or sprayed. Then they don’t worry about it, because, once the call is in, they know Huston will get it done.

“Earl takes a lot of pride in his work. He takes time to know not just the customer, but the customer’s entire family. He treats them how he’d want to be treated if he was in their shoes. He goes to every educational meeting he can, because he wants to know what will best benefit his customers. You’ll often see him spend time scouting a customer’s field because he knows that when farmers succeed, everyone at MFA succeeds. Customers value his opinion and know that he will be honest with them.”

Region 3: David Layne
MFA AGRI SERVICES, BOONVILLE, MO.
YEARS OF SERVICE: 14
ANNUAL ACRES: ABOUT 28,000

When fertilizer season is in full gear, you can expect David Layne to be one of the first ones to work in the morning and one of the last to leave. 

“When David pulls in the lot in the morning, it’s all about business,” said Boonville MFA Agri Services manager Ronnie Anderson. “If a farmer calls and needs fertilizer on a field before he plants, and plans to start planting at 6:30 a.m. on a Sunday, David is there before 6 a.m. getting the job done.”

Anderson said it’s that kind of commitment that has earned Layne the respect of area farmers.

“Customer trust and satisfaction are two of the most important aspects of this business. Anderson said that Layne knows how to push to get a job done. And he knows when conditions get too bad, whether from high winds or wet soils, the quality of work can deteriorate. And Layne understands the farming practices of his customer. He factors all of these variables into his work. “He wants to get the job done right,” said Anderson.

In his spare time, Layne loves to garden. When his garden crops begin to deliver, there is a steady flow of produce on the Boonville MFA Agri Services counter free for whoever stops in.

Region 4: Dave Lawson
MIDSOUTH/LEGRAND FERTILIZER, POPLAR BLUFF, MO.
YEARS OF SERVICE: 7
ANNUAL ACRES: ABOUT 27,500

Midsouth manager Matt Mauldin said that attention to details and being a life-long member of the community are a successful combination for Lawson. “Dave does an outstanding job. He keeps his truck in top shape. He is always courteous and does a good job spreading. He covers acres with zero customer complaints.”

A self-starter, Lawson takes downtime as serious as time in the field. “He is always finding things to do. He never has to be told to do anything,” said Maudlin. He added that at the end of every day, Lawson washes his truck and inspects it from end to end. That’s a benefit to the company, but it’s a benefit to customers as well. It minimizes downtime. And it helps customers receive timely service.

In his spare time, Lawson likes to spend time with his granddaughter and hunt for arrowheads on the family farm. He is an avid NASCAR fan.

Region 5: Douglas Preston
AGCHOICE, WEIR, KAN.
YEARS OF SERVICE: 22
ANNUAL ACRES: ABOUT 40,500

Weir AGChoice manager Bill Garner said Preston has that trademark of good applicators: customers ask for him by name. “He is very professional when he interacts with customers. And he is knowledgeable about all of our products. Doug makes sure the equipment he uses is in top shape and working order. He keeps it clean and sharp.” In essence, said Garner, Preston’s performance and knowledge give customers trust in him to help make the right decisions for their operations. “Doug’s stewardship for the environment and his willingness to help customers be good stewards of their land really enriches our farming community,” said Garner.

In his spare time, Preston enjoys fishing and gardening.

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Precision ag pays on pasture

Written by Jason Worthington on .

This summer, MFA will surpass 260,000 acres in its Nutri-Track program. Because Nutri-Track is typically based on a four-year sampling cycle, and given the pace of sign-ups, we hope to reach more than a million acres with the Nutri-Track sampling program in the next couple years. As you might guess, the majority of these acres are in corn, soybean and sometimes wheat rotation. However, one of the fastest growing segments of intensive soil sampling is pasture and hay ground.

There are good reasons for this surge in interest for site-specific fertility management on forages. Among them are higher cattle prices; increased scrutiny of fertilizer application and its environmental impact; and increased availability of variable-rate application equipment.

There is plenty to gain from precision nutrient management on hay and pasture land. Regardless of whether you grow corn or fescue, plants need balanced amounts of essential nutrients for optimum performance. Whether it’s brome or soybeans planted in a field, nutrients won’t be as readily available unless the pH is at proper levels. And for more intensively managed forage crops like alfalfa, money saved from variable-rate lime applications prior to seeding will offset the cost of grid sampling just as it will prior to row crops. Soil tests need to be taken in a manner that allows you to check nutrient levels, the soil pH, and the variability in the field. Whether your crop of choice is grain or grass, the basics of soil fertility stay the same.

Nutrient and pH variability change with many field-level factors, man-made and otherwise. In row crops, nutrients returned to the soil in the form of stover are usually spread through the combine uniformly and lands not far from where they were removed. In pastures, a major factor in nutrient variability comes from livestock. The nutrients cattle return to the soil via manure will be returned in places where cattle spend the most time. Those areas could be near feed bunks, ponds or waterers, mineral feeders or shade trees. A steer or heifer puts little thought into dispersing nutrients evenly, but with grid sampling, you can figure out the scope and severity of this disproportionate dispersal of nutrients.

Once you have accounted for the existing nutrients available to pasture and forage crops, variable-rate application of nutrients allows you to avoid over-fertilizing areas that cattle have already fertilized. Just as importantly, you can add the right amount of nutrients to optimize forage yield throughout the pasture.

Hay fields may not have cattle redistributing nutrients, but they come with challenges of their own. First, if you compare nutrient removal of 1 ton of cool-season grass hay compared to 67 cow-days on pasture, you will see that the only real equivalence is the amount of nitrogen required. For hay, phosphorous removal is doubled and potassium removal is tripled.

Moving harvested hay from hay fields to feed in a pasture is another form of nutrient redistribution you need to think about. The math gets complicated. Grid sampling helps you track these nutrients and fertilize accordingly.

Nutri-Track and variable-rate fertility are all about accuracy and efficiency. The program helps you put inputs where they are needed and pull back where they are not. These practices will not only save input costs on lime and more evenly distribute nutrients, but they can lead to increased productivity—you can increase stocking rates or grow more hay from the same acres. That’s one low-cost investment that can bring big returns on your beef operation.

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Win the battle with brush

Written by David Moore on .

Tree sprouts and other brush species rob vital nutrients and moisture from forage crops and discourage cattle from grazing in heavily infested areas. Controlling woody species in pasture can be a challenge, but it can be done. The financial rewards are great, plus, you’ll have a good looking pasture.

I divide brush into two categories. First, tree sprouts, and second, “other” woody species. The reason I make this distinction is that timing of a herbicide application is different for these categories. For tree sprouts, it’s best to not begin spraying until July 1. In the category of “other” woody species, application timing depends on the target plant.

When producers ask for my recommendation on getting brush out of pastures, I typically ask for something back: a commitment. Either commit to bush-hogging until you kill all the brush or commit to spraying until you kill all the brush. But it’s a trick. Generations of bush-hogging will not kill the brush. However, a few years of smart and diligent herbicide application will get the pasture in shape. Combined approaches generally just extend how long it takes to achieve control. I realize that letting the brush stand will be somewhat unsightly, but it does speed the process. Letting it stand means you don’t have to wait for adequate regrowth to occur to have enough leaf surface to absorb herbicide.

In the “other” woody species category, the most common and most troubling species typically are blackberries, dewberries, greenbrier, buckbrush and multiflora rose. Blackberries and dewberries have the same treatment. I use Chaparral at 2.5 ounces per acre, Remedy Ultra at 1 pint per acre with Astute or Astute Extra (preferred). Timing is a bit of a question. Studies show that the highest percentage kill is achieved by spraying in mid-September. However, if I can kill these plants early, it begins to release lots of grass. Regardless of timing, at least two applications will be necessary. I recommend spraying anytime about a week after full bloom with a second application in September. Typically this results in very good control on pasture ground.

Hay ground creates a new dilemma. On hay ground, the field is mowed before the herbicide application, or the plant is covered by grass canopy. In this case, cut early, cut only once and plan on a September herbicide application. It may take an extra year or two to get the control you desire.

Buckbrush is best controlled with Chaparral at 2.5 ounces per acre, 1 quart of 2,4-D or Hi-Dep per acre with Astute Extra. Control is better with early application—when target weeds fully leaf out in mid-April—but you can get satisfactory results spraying up to the end of May. After June 1, results are unpredictable.

If you have both blackberries and buckbrush in the same field, my approach is 2.5 ounces of Chaparral, 12 ounces of Remedy Ultra and 24 ounces of 2,4-D or Hi-Dep per acre with Astute Extra. Timing is one week after full bloom on the blackberries, but no later than the end of May.

Multiflora rose can be controlled with spot treatments of Grazon Next Hl, Chaparral or Grazon P+D. The key is coverage. Timing is May through August.

Greenbrier is a tough, viny pest. If you don’t have too many of them a dormant application of Remedy Ultra at 1 quart with 3 quarts diesel on the bottom 24-inches of the plant all the way around will do a nice job. If you have too much greenbrier for this labor-intensive method, a broadcast application of 2.5 ounces Chaparral and 1 quart of Remedy Ultra per acre with Astute Extra in mid-June is called for. Expect about 3 years of application before seeing truly promising results.

When it comes to tree species, summer and late summer timing is typically best.

For newer locust sprouts, Grazon Next HL at 1 quart per acre with Astute Extra will do a good job. If they’ve been cut less than five times, you can add 1 pint of Remedy Ultra per acre to clean them up. If you know the sprouts have been cut many times in the past, I have seen the best results using 4 to 6 pints of Surmount per acre with Astute Extra. Timing is mid-June through September.

Hedge (Osage orange) is best controlled with 1.5 to 2 pints of Remedy Ultra per acre with Astute Extra. Timing, again, is mid-June through September.

Oaks and hickory present a difficult challenge. My approach on these species is 2 to 3 pints of Remedy Ultra and 2 to 3 pints of Tordon 22K per acre with Astute Extra. Adding 1 quart per acre of 2,4-D or Hi-Dep can improve results. In this case, Remedy probably gives the most dramatic result, but Tordon keeps the surviving sprouts weak and more sensitive a follow-up application the next year. You can spray oaks and hickory beginning in early July and through September. Expect 2 to 3 years of application. After that, you can finish off the few survivors with Spike pellets or a basal bark application of Remedy Ultra.

Expectations on brush for brush control is an exercise in patience. Typically, the brush you see in a pasture didn’t arrive in just one year and you likely won’t control it in just one year. Be patient—use the right product, at the right rate, at the right time with the right surfactant. You’ll get the control you want over time. Obviously, I have not covered all the brush species. Feel free to contact me for more specific information.

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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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