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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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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