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In this October issue

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Meadows with a mission (October Cover Story)

Pollinator plots provide critical habitat to benefit insects and wildlife
by ALLISON JENKINS

Topping 2 million
Drive to Feed Kids exceeds expectations in its 2021 hunger-relief campaign
by ALLISON JENKINS

Decade of demos and data
With 10 years of research in the books, MFA’s Training Camp continues to provide valuable agronomic training, product evaluation
by ALLISON JENKINS

The elderberry movement (Extended image gallery coming soon)
Missouri’s leading berry crop is ripe for the picking
by ANDREW B CHURCH

Partners in production
MFA’s whole-farm approach helps Byron Stine build his beef business
by ALLISON JENKINS

UPFRONT/BLOG -
Sound advice-MFA offers "Made for Agriculture" podcast
Bayer removes residential Roundup
MU’s Center for RegenerativeAgriculture offers new web resources
Harvest kicks off with a Sonny perspective

OPINIONS AND EXPERTISE

Use custom approach to start cattle on feed
Evaluate risk, monitor each group to ensure performance all the way to market
by DR. JIM WHITE

Supply, demand affect plant nutrition, too
Shortages of P and K can limit production of your crop
by THAD BECKER

Country Corner
Farmers can steer the climate conversation
by ALLISON JENKINS

MARKETS - (Click for flipbook version)
Corn: La Niña weather may hamper crop potential
Soybeans: Exports likely to remain strong for U.S. beans
Cattle: Cattle herd getting smaller
Wheat: Tight stocks, supplies could mean fall rallies

RECIPES - (Click for flipbook version)
Cobbled Together

BUY, SELL, TRADE - (Click for flipbook version)
Marketplace

Viewpoint
The cooperative future rests on the cooperative past
by ERNIE VERSLUES

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#Oct21

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MFA’s whole-farm approach helps Byron Stine build his beef business

When the Stine family transitioned from dairy to beef cattle in 2001, the switch wasn’t a huge stretch. A lifetime of milking cows had provided the livestock knowledge, skills and abilities needed to successfully build a beef operation.

“We weren’t making any money in the dairy and decided it was time to sell out,” said Byron Stine, who, at the time, farmed alongside his father, Jim, and maternal grandfather, Dallas Spears. “Beef cattle were a natural fit. We had learned a lot from the dairy business about how to be in the beef business: how to recognize good genetics, how to raise good hay, how to keep our cows healthy and breed back.”

That know-how served the family well as they began to establish a cow-calf operation on their farm in Clever, Mo. Dallas passed away a few years after retiring from the dairy, but Byron and Jim continued to raise beef cattle and high-quality alfalfa and grass hay. Through the years, the father-son team even garnered several top awards in hay contests at the Ozark Empire Fair and Mis­souri State Fair. At age 84, Jim recently sold his herd but continues to help with hay production on the farm.

“Forage is key in the dairy business,” Byron said. “And it doesn’t matter if it’s beef or dairy, cattle need good hay to grow well. We used to grow a lot of alfalfa, but we’re moving toward more grass hay. Regardless of the type of forage, you want the highest quality you can get, and we try to do everything right when it comes to our hay and pastures.”

The desire to improve forage production led Byron to seek the advice of MFA livestock experts David Yarnell, sales manager for District 6, and Keith McDan­iel, livestock key account manager for the Greater Ozarks group in southwest Missouri. Their partnership began a few years ago with a simple forage analysis and has grown into a whole-farm approach.

“We started working with Byron on his hay samples, and then it’s evolved from there,” Keith said. “He would call and ask for recommendations. We’d visit on nutrition and fertilizer. Now he’s got some Nutri-Track acres signed up. He participat­ed in the Health Track program last year.

We’ve taken baby steps to bring an entire program together that will add value to his operation.”

Before trying Health Track, MFA’s age-and-source-verified preconditioning pro­gram, Byron had typically marketed calves straight from their mamas at about 550 to 600 pounds. Health Track protocols, on the other hand, call for a 45-day weaning period along with giving two rounds of vaccinations and using MFA-recommend­ed feed. While proper animal health and nutrition were standard on the Stine farm, the weaning process was new.

“It was my first time doing something like that, but I wanted to get the most out of my cattle that I could,” Byron said. “Keith and David were very helpful in keeping me guided along the way with everything that I needed to do so. Health-wise, the cattle got along really well. No problem. No sickness. They did great in the program—better than my expecta­tions.”

Byron enrolled 66 head from his 2020 calf crop into Health Track. Currently, he’s working to build up his herd but says he will use Health Track again when calf numbers increase.

“I’m planning to keep this year’s heifers for replacement, but next year, I’ll have a bigger group that are close together and more uniform, and I’d like to try it again,” Byron said. “I really think the Health Track program is a selling point, and the guidelines you follow are good practices, whether you sell calves through the pro­gram or not.”

In general, Byron said, working with the MFA team has helped improve his operation, from fertility recommendations to a nutrition plan that includes Ricochet mineral, Performance First supplement tubs and Cattle Charge feed.

“That Cattle Charge is the best thing I’ve ever seen for getting calves started on feed,” Byron said. “They’ll eat that stuff from Day 1.”

The cattleman admits he usually con­siders any new product or program with a healthy dose of skepticism but said he can’t argue with proven results.

“I’m definitely one of those guys who has to see it to believe it,” Byron said. “But Keith and David put it on paper and got a program together for me, and it’s worked great with my cows and calves. I’ll still challenge them, as far as how much things cost and things like that, but once they show me that, yes, this will work, I’m willing to give it a try.”

While it may have taken some convinc­ing, Keith said the successes on the Stine farm are proof that persistence pays.

“It took us six to eight months to get him to sign up his calves on Health Track,” Keith said. “But when he did, he was tickled to death. Hesitant? Yes, but he was happy with the end result. A lot of people are like that. They want to see those numbers and know that we’re not just filling them full of biased information. My everyday goal is to do something to help the farmers, and when they’re successful, I feel like I’ve done my job.”

The farm continues to go through an evolution as Byron and his wife, Sherrie, look to the future. Over the past few years, he has been working to streamline the farm’s breeding season so that all calving occurs in a more pre­dictable window. He’s now gotten that window down from 90 days to 60 days and would love to narrow it to 45 days.

“Last spring, we had 65 calves in 60 days,” he said. “I try to be done calving by March because by then we’ll be back into our hay crop. That way, the calves are out making a living for me while I’m out there doing other things.”

Byron said he wants to continue expanding their herd, which currently consists of nearly 100 cows, by keeping 20 or so of the best heifers each year. With his own acreage plus pastures on his parents’ farm, Byron said he figures there’s capacity for about 150 head.

“My goal is to keep improving the herd, culling the old ones, keeping the good young ones, and eventually start selling replacement heifers,” he said. “Next year, I’d also like to raise some yearlings up to the 750- to 800-pound mark. Then, when I get to the market, I’ll have something of high value.”

Over the last two decades, Byron said he’s not only learned just how differ­ent beef production is from dairy farming, but he’s also come to realize just how much the two have in common. And it goes well beyond proper nutri­tion, quality forages and stringent animal health practices.

“There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing a new calf born, watching it grow and then taking it to the market,” Byron said. “I just love being around good cattle and knowing I had a part in making that happen.”

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The elderberry movement

“Your mother was a hamster, and your father smelt of elderberries!”

That was just one of the insults a raucous French soldier levied at King Arthur in the 1975 comedy film, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” and likely rep­resents the extent of what most of us know about elderberries.

Even just 20 years ago, it would have been difficult to find pure elderberry juice in a farmers market, let alone anywhere else. Now elderberry products seem to be everywhere, including big-box grocery stores. So what’s the deal? Are they merely novelty crops grown in the soil of a faddish, pro-health magic-bullet mania? Or are they the next big thing in value-added agriculture?

Regardless, Missouri is smack dab in the middle of the elderberry movement, spurred on by one of the developing industry’s key players, Terry Durham of Hartsburg, Mo., an American elderberry researcher, promoter and all-round expert. He works to educate those who are interested in investing in elderberry production, giving multiple talks at conferences and symposiums every year, as well as writing and distributing literature about best elderberry farming practices.

Durham justifiably has a vested interest in the success of American elderberry producers. He is one of a relatively small, tight-knit group of elderberry research­ers, promoters and educators who lead the Midwest Elderberry Cooperative (MEC). “Our cooperative is made up of growers participating in the growth and development of elderberry cultivation and sale of elderberry products in the up­per Midwest,” the organization’s website says. “Our growers decide when to sell their crop to the cooperative. The farmers must profit first or there is no reason for a cooperative.”

“I’m helping to develop an elderberry industry, which is great for small farmers,” Durham said. “There was no commercial elderberry when we started (in Missou­ri). And now Missouri probably has over 60% of the elderberries in the United States. We’ve been growing slowly in the Midwest, and it’s working out. Now we’ve moved out to the coasts, north and south, because every community can use elderberries.”

Durham gives talks at elderberry conferences year-round, such as the annual Comprehensive Elderberry Workshop, planned Oct. 29 and 30 in Jefferson City. “I drive about 60,000 miles a year and talk to thousands of people who are inter­ested in elderberries,” Durham said.

“He’s like the Johnny Appleseed of elderberries,” said Frank Gordon, grape and elderberry grower in Huntsdale, Mo., with a laugh. “He’s a heck of a promoter.”

Health claims

The elderberry movement has bloomed, in part, because of the fruit’s reported antiviral and antioxidant properties. Studies to verify these benefits are ongoing, but enthusiasts eagerly consume elderberry products to promote healthy living. That includes the farmers themselves.

“The demand (for elderberry products) is outstanding be­cause of the fact that it’s very high in antioxidants and other medicinals and because it seems to have some efficacy against things like seasonal flu,” said Dr. Michael Gold, elderberry and specialty crop research professor at the Center for Agroforest­ry at University of Missouri. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, he continued, “people are seeking things that aren’t necessarily manufactured in a lab. So they probably would be leaning toward something like drinking pure elderberry juice that comes from American elderberries versus taking a pill.”

The use of European elderberries dates back as far as record­ed history. Even the father of modern medicine, Hippocrates— that venerable, ancient Greek physician who is credited with professionalizing the medical practice—referred to the plant as “nature’s medicine cabinet for the common man.” Research of European and American elderberries alike reveals that they may increase general health through abundant medicinal properties.

MU researchers have even been looking at elderberries to potentially benefit patients with Alzheimer’s disease as well as a possible treatment in stroke recovery, Gold said.

“We need to get the word out on these things, because I think it’s a good fruit,” Gordon said. “I take elderberry juice every day, and it really helps.”

The use of elderberry is accelerating in juices, cocktails, cor­dials, jams, jellies, muffins, wines, fruit smoothies and even food dye, said Durham. “We’ve been making our juice for 13 years now,” he said, noting the products have FDA approval. “We use a special, very low-key process, where we keep all the good stuff in there. One tablespoon, and it gives you your daily dose.”

Production & pitfalls

American elderberries (Sambucus canadensis) are naturally growing shrubs in North America. They can grow 7 to 15 feet tall, with com­pound clusters (or cymes) of relatively small, white 5-petaled flowers. Elderberries start as small, bright green buds and ripen to a dark pur­ple—almost black—berry when ready for harvest. The branches have smooth, non-thorny bark and terminate in blade-like green leaves.

Elderberry shrubs are often confused with poke berry (Phytolacca americana), cowbane (Cicuta virosa) and devil’s walking stick (Aralia spinosa). The lookalikes are toxic, often fatally so. Parts of the elder­berry shrub are also toxic, such as its inedible, unripe or green parts, due to the presence of cyanogenic glycosides (which metabolize into cyanide), as well as other alkaloids.

However, unlike the plants often mistaken for elderberry shrubs, MU research has shown properly processed and ripened elderberries are, for all practical purposes, nontoxic. For example, one would have to eat 4.5 to 13 pounds of raw, ripe elderberries to reach toxic levels, and modern methods of producing elderberry juice volatilizes many toxic compounds, which further reduces toxicity. In comparison, other research has shown apple juice contains more cyanogenic compounds than ripe elderberries, pound for pound.

Growing elderberries can be lucrative, but it’s not without chal­lenges. The development of methods to overcome those hurdles was due in large part to Durham’s involvement in systematizing elderberry farming, not to mention his promotional prowess and business savvy.

Durham’s interest in American elderberry production led to his partnership with the Elderberry Improvement Project in 1997. “I had to just wait for the research, because there was no research on the American stuff, and I’ve always been a little too fast ahead of the curve,” Durham said. He and the other three innovators involved in the initial project, Gold, Patrick Byers and Andrew Thomas, are the movers and shakers of the Midwest Elderberry Cooperative.

Durham said, in the beginning, only small farming entrepreneurs and innovators have invested in elderberry production, but “now we have more traditional farmers converting over some of their crop ground to find some different cash streams.”

The process of growing elderberries is relatively simple, as detailed in “Growing and Marketing Elderberries in Missouri,” published and continually updated by the MU Center for Agroforestry. Like cul­tivating other crops, the manual states, elderberry production is as complicated as you make it and driven by what you want to get out of it. Elderberry growers often begin with planting dormant hardwood cuttings. The harvesting process takes the elderberry shrubs down to the ground, leaving farmers with ample supplies of cuttings from which to plant more elderberries. Elderberry roots and seeds are also useful for propagation.

From stick to full commercial production may take up to three years, Gold said, because of the need to develop a strong root system by trimming and prun­ing. This method promotes big, flowering cymes, and thus more berries. After the third year, it’s just a matter of upkeep and smart farming practices.

Shrub selection also makes a big difference in yield, MU research documents show, and where you plan on farming plays a big role in that choice. For example, to stretch the harvest season (and yield), an elderberry farmer may plant multiple selections that ripen at different times and intervals, Gold said.

“Put your cuttings in and then decide how you’re going to control the weeds the first one or two years,” Gordon said, “whether you’re going to use chemicals or mulch or whatever else.” The goal is to allow the root system to develop, strengthen and mature. Once that root system is in place, berry growth accelerates.

“You probably need to irrigate,” Gordon added. “I’ve got my drip irrigation spaced out a little too close at 3 feet, and I can put nitrogen through that spacing as fertilizer. You really need to think it through.”

Indeed, planning goes along way, MU elderberry research says. Several factors go into prepping the orchard, including spacing, weed and pest control, disease prevention, competitive ground cover between rows, drainage and so on.

“Get your feet wet, start slow, see what works,” Gordon said. “Then after that, when you’ve got your own cuttings, you can decide whether or not to expand.”

Harvesting challenges

Elderberry farming does have its limitations, however, and Gordon has found his. “I’m about maxed out,” he said. Harvest typically happens in July, August or early September and is a la­bor-intensive process that involves hand cutting or breaking off the cymes. That means lots of hands and the expense of human harvesters. As of today, there are no known or widely available machines to pick American elderberries in the field.

Another major limitation is post-harvest treatment of the berries themselves. “You have to harvest the berries at the right ripeness,” Gold said. Too early or too late means the berries are unusable for human consumption. Once the elderberries are harvested, “you have to process them immediately and get them into refrigeration,” Gold added. Harvested elderberries are highly perishable, so even after they have been picked and processed, juicing them is also a time-sensitive matter.

That’s why Durham spends a rela­tively large amount of time and effort educating potential elderberry farmers, alongside his promotional endeavors.

“One of the most important things about being a successful farmer is mitigating risk,” Durham said. “I always stress, espe­cially with the younger farmers, to make sure you do everything that you can. Don’t wait till the last minute.”

For example, deer are particularly fond of elderberries, and waiting too long to put up a deer fence could lead to ruin. Similarly, if growers don’t have irrigation set up, whole orchards could be lost. One of Durham’s main goals in promotion of elderberry growing, he said, is to help growers make smart decisions that lead to success.

Aside from the challenges of growing the shrubs successfully, making a profit with elderberry products is subject to market volatility, Durham said.

As for yield, Gold said 4,000 to 6,000 pounds per acre is rea­sonable. “Some folks yield better than that per acre,” he added. Growers may sell their crop for $2 to $3 per pound of packed, cleaned and frozen berries, but the amount of gross profit depends on several factors, including harvesting and processing costs and the market laws of supply and demand.

In a perfect world and full crop, a 1-acre elderberry orchard could gross anywhere between $8,000 and $18,000 wholesale at harvest, Gold said. This is one reason why elderberry farmers tend to have relatively small operations compared to more traditional row crops, he added. Farmers interested in growing elderberries are looking for a completely different kind of crop in a completely different market. A 10-acre elderberry orchard may yield 40,000-60,000 pounds (potentially grossing $80,000 to $180,000)—but then what do you do with all those berries? Can you harvest, process and store them before they rot? These are some of the decisions elderberry farmers, new or seasoned, need to wrestle with every year. So, when Gordon says he’s maxed out, it means just that. With elderberries, as with other crops, at some point more does not mean more.

Demand for elderberry products is relatively high, boosted most recently by COVID-19 health concerns, and Gold said U.S. elderberry producers may only be meeting only about a tenth of the predicted need. That means that if demand for elderberry products grows at the predicted rate, there would need to be about 22,000 acres of elderberries growing in the United States.

According to the 2017 U.S. Agriculture Census, the latest data available, about 500 acres of elderberry are used nationally for commercial production. Of course, not all is reported, but over half the farms were under 5 acres. Of those 500 acres, Missouri has about 300 in production, although that number has likely increased since the census was taken.

“Demand is well outpacing supply,” Durham said. “So, we’ve been raising our prices every year and, gosh, people are paying incredible prices out there. Some are getting $50 a gallon (for fresh berries that have been processed, cleaned and frozen).” Because the supply of American elderberries falls short of demand, 95% of elderberry product in the United States still comes from Europe, Durham added, where production is larger and more maturely established.

Bright futures

Admittedly, Durham said, there are risks and challenges, but it’s not all doom and gloom—far from it. If an elderberry grower thinks it through, plans ahead, prepares his or her orchard well, properly processes harvested berries and has a solution for re­frigerated storage, elderberries are a poten­tial boon for the small farmer. Again, as with other crops, it’s all about mitigating risk and adding as much value to your operation as possible, Gold said.

On the other hand, if growers think it’s going to be easy, don’t prepare enough, aren’t familiar with elderberry market vola­tility or overestimate their ability to handle harvest season, growing elderberries can lead to devastating financial losses. It takes work, preparation, thought and more than a little bit of grit.

“You just have to be patient,” Gordon said. “The first year you’re not going see anything. You’re going to think, ‘What the hell did I do?’ and the second year, ‘Was I a real idiot to do this?’ But then the third year, that’s when you’re really going to see those plants starting to emerge.”

Persimmon Hill Farm in Lampe is one of the regional juicing hubs in Missouri, where co-owner Earnie Bohner turns raw elderber­ries into juice for products sold to Durham by many independent growers. Although Bohner is not a member of the MEC, he said his business relationship with Durham is built on honesty, integrity and fair dealing.

“He’s just one of the best human beings I’ve had the pleasure of working with,” said Bohner. “Everything he does seems to mirror his value of giving at least as much as he’s getting. He’s a man of his word—he says he’s going to do something, he does it.”

Fellow elderberry enthusiast Gordon started his production after attending several workshops and listening to Durham’s educational talks. “He gave all of us two dozen plants to sample and test,” Gordon said. Those samples eventually became the 3-acre mature, productive elderberry orchard he now manages on his Huntsdale farm.

“I love it when people write me a letter and tell me how successful they are,” Durham said. “They could never imagine making so much money farm­ing. It’s all about loving the life you live and living the life you love.”

To find more information about growing American elderberries in your neck of the woods visit www.midwest-elderberry.coop and www.riverhillsharvest.com.

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Decade of demos and data

When MFA held its first Training Camp in August 2012, the event was billed as a real-world research site for some of the latest innovations in agronomic products and services as well as a hands-on teaching tool for employees.

Now in its 10th year, Training Camp continues to serve these important purpos­es but also provides something even more valuable for MFA and its customers—confidence.

“The ultimate goal of our research is to help growers make the best decisions on their farms,” said Cameron Horine, MFA staff agronomist. “We want them to know what products are out on the market that can help them boost production and improve practices. By taking a look at these things ourselves—in our own replicated trials, in our own geography—we can be confident in the results and recommenda­tions we make.”

More than 300 employees and industry representatives from across MFA territory attended the 2021 Training Camp field day on Aug. 16 at the 20-acre research site in the Missouri River bottoms outside Boonville. Participants viewed trials and heard presentations on MorCorn hybrids and MorSoy varieties, fungicides, seed treatments, foliar nutritionals, nitrogen stabilizers, late-season insect feeding, cover crops and more.

Horine, who coordinates Training Camp and more than two dozen other replicat­ed field trials across MFA’s trade territory, said the testing program not only includes studies designed by the MFA agronomy team but also evaluates emerging products from other agricultural vendors.

“We have two parts to all of our testing,” Horine said. “We work with a number of companies that are bringing in new products and want us to have a first look at them. Often, we’re testing a product while it’s still two or three years from the marketplace. That gives us a chance to get our own insights and determine whether or not we want to move forward in providing that product to our growers. We’re only going to sell something if we know it works.”

“The other reason for our trials is applied agronomics,” he continued. “How is this going to be beneficial to the producer? How can we make sure our recommendations make sense? And is it bringing an added benefit to the grower? Those are just a few of the questions we’re trying to answer every year.”

MFA’s small-plot research takes place at Boonville and another 35-acre site east of Columbia. Each study is set up in four-row plots that are 10 feet wide by 25 feet long, Horine explained, and they are replicated to reduce variability and provide multiple data points for a better statistical yield average. To further protect the integrity of the data, harvest is a very scientific process, he added.

“We use a special plot combine, and we only harvest the middle two rows, which provides a buffer between treatments,” Horine said. “The combine has a spe­cialized yield monitoring and weighing system. I stop at the end of each plot and wait for all the grain to go into the weigh bucket. It weighs the actual amount of grain, takes moisture readings and cal­culates test weight. All of those numbers flow into a statistical sofware program and are analyzed to de­termine if there is a significant difference between treatments.”

Typically, Horine said, the trials are set up for multiple years of study to verify results.

“I prefer at least three years because every year is different,” he said. “We don’t like to push out information after just one year, and even with two years, it’s hard to get a trend. Maybe we had a really wet year and then a really dry year, or maybe we had two really great years. In three years of trial work, generally speaking, we’ll get a whole cycle of what we normally see here in Missouri, and we can feel more comfortable about the data.”

Although details won’t be available until after harvest and analysis by Horine and the MFA agronomy team, here are a few highlights and observations from this year’s research and Train­ing Camp presentations. Look for more detailed information and charts in the March 2022 issue of Today’s Farmer.

FUNGICIDE TRIALS

Fungicides have been a key focus of MFA’s agronomic research for the past several years, with several different trials examining timing, variety response and product evaluations. These studies are not meant to merely show the value of fungicides but to delve deeper into how they can be used most effectively, said Jason Worthington, MFA di­rector of account management who coordinated the research program in his previous posi­tion as senior staff agronomist.

“At this point, we know fungicides work,” Worthington said. “You’re going to get yield benefit from them. Now, we’re interested in the nuances. Can we increase that benefit by applying fungicides at the right time or by putting something else with it to enhance perfor­mance?”

This is the third year for research on fun­gicides by hybrid and variety at the Training Camp site. All of MFA’s commercial MorCorn and MorSoy products were tested with fun­gicides, Trivapro on corn and Miravis Top on beans. They were applied at the same time—VT to R1 for corn and R2 to R3 for soybeans. Repli­cations of the same corn and soybean products without fungicides were used as checks. Visual differences were observed, and then yield data was used to measure the impact.

Results from these studies in 2019 and 2020 have shown a wide variance in fungicide impact, Horine said. On the higher side, some corn hybrids averaged increases of 8 to 15 bushels per acre versus untreated plots, while others only yielded a few bushels more. In soybeans, the differences were 4 to 6 bushels per acre versus untreated plants, but many varieties showed a less-positive impact. There were even some hy­brids and varieties that had zero yield advantages.

“The purpose of these trials is to see which varieties are responding to fungicides better,” Horine explained. “For producers trying to make decisions on when and where to spray fungicides, this information can be valuable and help them get a better return on investment.”

When looking at fungicide timing, however, results have been fairly consistent, Horine said. MFA’s research reinforces the labeled recom­mendations of applying fungicides in the early reproductive stages of VT-R1 in corn and R2-R3 in soybeans.

“From the two years of data that we have so far—and we have the study again this year—on corn, that VT to R1 time frame is optimal,” he said. “We still see an added benefit by having a fungicide at the other timings. That’s just the sweet spot. We’ve seen the same thing in soy­beans. It falls right along with what’s on the label. That R2-R3 time frame is really where it’s consistently paying.”

With this summer’s severe outbreak of southern rust, visual differences in fungicide treatments have been especially striking in the corn plots, Horine added.

“This year, especially at our Boonville site, the fungicide timing trials have really shown what is working well against southern rust,” he said. “It’ll be interesting to see what happens when we harvest those plots.”

NITROGEN STABILIZERS

Studying the impact of nitrogen stabiliz­ers is nothing new for MFA agronomists, but this year’s research put renewed focus on the different options available to prevent loss of this critical crop nutrient through volatilization, denitrification and leaching.

“We have a pretty good understanding that we need stabilizers, especially when it comes to early-season nitrogen applica­tions, but we also do a lot of top-dressing on corn now,” Horine said. “The last few years we’ve had really wet springs, and even some wet falls. This summer, you could see nitrogen loss in fields every day just driving down the road. We want to reiterate the importance of stabilizers and show people the impact of how much nitrogen they’re potentially losing by not having proper stabilization.”

Thad Becker, MFA precision data manager, led a session on nitrogen stabilization at the Training Camp field day in August. He displayed a nitrogen-deficient corn plant to illustrate the visual symptoms and discussed the need for N throughout the crop’s growth cycle.

“Once we get to the silking stage, the corn has only taken up about two-thirds of the nitrogen it needs. We’ve still got a third to go,” Becker said. “So, we have to make sure a third of our total nitrogen is left in the gas tank to feed that plant, which means it needs to be around pretty late in the season. If that nitrogen source isn’t protected, you can’t be sure it’ll still be there.”

Whether a grower chooses to apply nitrogen in the form of anhydrous ammonia or granular urea, he continued, MFA has nitrogen stabilization products to protect that fertilizer investment. N-Serve and Centuro are two MFA-recommended products for anhydrous; N-Guard and SuperU are stabilizers of choice for urea.

“I will tell you, nitrogen trials are difficult to measure,” Becker said. “If you ask me which is better, I’d say we have not found much difference between them, but we’ve been pleased with what we’ve seen. The important thing is that we keep nitrogen available for the crop. If not, it can be one of the most yield-lim­iting factors in the field.”

COVER CROPS AND SOIL HEALTH

New to the offerings at Training Camp this year was a demonstration of cover crops, a hot topic in the agricultural community right now.

“There’s a lot of talk about cover crops, from carbon credits to the sustainability aspects,” Horine said. “We wanted to take a look at some of the added benefits of cover crops and understand more about the soil health aspects.”

The cover-crop plot at Training Camp consisted of a summer blend of forage sorghum, pearl millet, cowpeas and sunflowers. It turned out to be a timely demonstration in a year when many fields were flooded late in the spring and lay fallow over the summer, Horine said.

“Down in our river bottoms, we had a lot of guys who lost their corn crop, and this could be another option than just try­ing to replant beans,” he said. “If you’re a cow-calf producer as well, maybe you can use a summer mix of cover crops and get some forage or hay out of it.”

Adam Jones, MFA natural resources conservation specialist, led the cover-crop presentation with a visually striking demon­stration. He took soil samples from a continuously tilled field and soil samples from a no-till cover-crop field and dropped each into a clear cylinder of water with a grate at the top. The tilled soil disintegrated into the water, while the no-till soil stayed mostly intact.

“What’s the difference?” Jones asked attendees. “Biology. The only difference is how much biology is here. The soil from the cover-crop field retains its structure because it’s held together by living roots, root exudates, earthworm goop, mycorrhizal fungi, microbes. In the other sample, the particles have nothing to keep them together, so they detach and are at the whim of wherever the water is going.”

Planting cover crops and reduc­ing tillage are two ways to increase biology in the soil. “Our goal is to put living roots in that soil for as much of the year as we possibly can,” Jones explained.

The benefits of cover crops are well documented, he said, from reducing soil erosion and sup­pressing weeds to moderating soil temperatures and building organic matter. But, he cautioned, growers must have clear objectives and plans for terminating and planting into cover-crop fields.

“In the last 15 years, we would have solved a lot of issues if grow­ers had answered one question before putting cover crops on their farm: Why?” Jones said. “A lot of these scenarios have gone awry because we’ve lost focus of what the objective is. Knowing the answer to that question can guide decisions in the right direction.”

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