MFA Agronomy trials deliver data for better crop decisions
Steve Fleming, MFA Incorporated Seed Division director, walks down the corn hybrid test plot at MFA’s Training Camp site in Boonville, Mo. Here, MFA conducts trials on its own MorCorn and MorSoy lines of seed as well as partner brands Dekalb, Asgrow, NK and Brevant.
At the Training Camp Field Day, Marcus Bartlett, FMC precision platforms regional representative, discusses trials on Xyway LFR, an in-furrow fungicide designed for season-long disease protection.
Field Day attendees learn about MFA’s 2021 soybean variety trials, which include MFA’s own MorSoy line along with Asgrow and Brevant partner brands. This year, 85 soybean varieties were tested, both commercial and experimental products, with three trait packages: Enlist Ready, Roundup Ready Xtend and XtendFlex. These trials help MFA build confidence in current products and determine what new lines should go to market.
In this aerial image, you can see the added benefit of fungicide applications and the ability of the plant to stay green longer into the season to continue to add top-end yield potential.
MUCH LIKE IN 2020, there were plenty of challenges in 2021. Fortunately, one challenge we didn’t face was being able to hold our annual MFA Agronomy Training Camp in person. In mid-August, we showcased MFA’s trial work and presented agronomic topics to employees during our annual field day at our testing site in Boonville, Mo. While attendance was down—approximately 300 employees compared to our normal 450-plus—the turnout was great considering complete COVID shutdowns for the past year and a half.
During the field day, employees were able to walk around our testing site, hear talks from agronomists and product managers, and see demonstrations on corn and soybean varieties, fungicides, seed treatments, nitrogen stabilizers, nutrient use efficiency products and much more. The Boonville site is 20 acres of corn-soybean rotation. The corn was planted May 3 at a population of 32,500 seeds per acre. Except for the hybrid trials, all other plots were planted with MorCorn 4457. This has been our standard corn hybrid for trials the past three years, which allows us to compare repetitive studies more effectively year over year because we don’t have to count for varietal difference in the results.
The corn was fertilized with SuperU at planting with 300 pounds of actual N per acre. Since this is a testing site, we push nitrogen fertilization to eliminate that as a yield-limiting factor. However, we did have some nitrogen-based studies, which were not applied with any N except for what was needed in each treatment and plot.
The soybeans were planted June 4 at a population of 140,000 seeds per acre. As with corn, we try to keep the same variety planted over multiple years. This year was the first time in a while that we changed varieties, planting MorSoy 4020 XF.
We also have a second testing station, east of Columbia, where we replicate trials and have space for additional research. This site is 35 acres of corn-soybean rotation. Approximately six of those acres have been in corn-on-corn for the past three years to obtain data from that scenario. The corn was planted May 14 at a population of 32,500 seeds per acre. Like Boonville, all of the corn except for the hybrid trials was MorCorn 4457. Unfortunately, after stand evaluations and determination of plot loss, we had to replant the site on June 5.
The corn was fertilized with 180 pounds of actual N per acre with SuperU. All of the nitrogen at this site was applied to the corn at V5-V6 after the stand was established. Again, we had several nitrogen-based studies, so those were fertilized based on the trial treatments.
The soybeans, except for variety trials, were mostly planted in MorSoy 4020 XF on the same day as the Boonville site, June 4, at a population of 140,000 seeds per acre.
MORCORN AND MORSOY VARIETY TRIALS
Every year, MFA conducts testing of our own MorCorn and MorSoy seed lineup. We have a unique testing program that allows us to evaluate products we potentially want to move forward as well as verifying that we are comfortable with our current lineup. A huge advantage is that we are testing these varieties in our own territory and environments, instead of just relying on data that we receive from the “I” states.
In total we have 14 corn and 14 soybean sites spread across our trade territory, in different soil types and conditions to help solidify confidence in our products. The variety trial data presented here is just from our large agronomy training sites in Boonville and Columbia. This year especially, we are truly able to see from the results just how different these sites are in soil type and yield environment even though they are only 30 miles apart.
In this year’s corn trials, we tested a total of 58 hybrids. Along with nine commercial hybrids and 25 experimental hybrids in the MorCorn lineup, we also include products from our partner brands: Dekalb, NK and Brevant. We tested eight hybrids each for these brands, some of which are first-look products that allow us to get early evaluation of hybrid performance before they fully come to market. For that reason, we won’t present any of the partner brand data here.
As seen in figures 1A, 1B and 1C, we tested hybrids ranging from 102- to 119-day relative maturity. As mentioned earlier, the corn at our Columbia site was planted late and didn’t get a good jump with early nitrogen. Shortly after our corn started taking off, we were hit with a dry spell for about three weeks, and our corn yields suffered. At this site, yields ranged from our top end of 179.9 bushels per acre with MC 4255 to 139 bushels per acre on the lower end with an experimental hybrid XP1122.
At Boonville, the dry spell didn’t affect us nearly as much since the plots are in the river bottoms and the water table is much shallower. We still had high-yielding corn, even though it wasn’t as high as in years past. At this site, yields ranged from 267.3 bushels per acre with our top hybrid, experimental XP0143, to 208.8 bushels per acre on the lower end with another experimental, XP1153.
Figure 1D compares average yield for some of our commercial hybrids that have been tested over the years at 12 other locations in our trade territory.
In our 2021 soybean trials, we tested a total of 85 varieties—31 were MorSoy commercial checks, and 31 were experimental varieties. As with corn, we also tested lines from our partner brands including eight varieties from Asgrow and Brevant and seven varieties from NK. As with corn, we will not be presenting any results from the partner brands to hold true to our data agreements since there are first-look products in the lineup.
We also tested three trait packages in these lines, including Enlist Ready (E3), Roundup Ready Xtend (RR2X) and XtendFlex (XF). Because RR2X varieties were in the trials, we had to maintain a conventional herbicide program for weed control since they are not glufosinate tolerant. Figures 2A, 2B, 2C and 2D compare the soybean varieties we tested ranging from 3.5 to 4.9 maturity. The data portrays the same story as our corn trials with big differences in yield potential from our two testing sites.
Because the Boonville testing site is such a high-yielding area, we delay our soybean planting until June to limit early plant growth. This helps prevent lodging so that we can cleanly harvest each individual plot with no contamination. The top variety was MS 3859E with a yield of 94.8 bushels per acre, and the lower end was an experimental variety, XP1473E, at 65.1 bushels per acre. At the Columbia site, the top-yielding variety was MS 4426 RXT at 61.6 bushels per acre, and the low-yielding variety was MS 3741 XF at 44.3 bushels per acre.
Figure 2E details average yield comparison for some of our commercial hybrids that have been tested over the past two years at our other 12 locations.
In all our trials, we do a lot of research on varieties and quite a few trials on fungicides, some of which we will discuss later. In the past three years, we have combined these two studies into one. We all know that every field is different and that every corn or soybean variety is different and has a right fit for certain types of soil and management strategies. For years we have talked about the benefits of fungicides being applied to your crop— disease control, overall plant health and yield boost. It is easy for us to say that you should just apply fungicide to your entire crop to get these added benefits. The problem is that there are many factors that come in to play when planning a fungicide application. While I believe that using fungicides at the proper timing is a best management practice, I know that generally it is the last input a crop gets before the combines roll. Often, producers are trying to decide at this point if the cost outweighs the benefits, especially when input prices have increased. However, it may be easier to decide whether to apply a fungicide when you have data to show which varieties may respond better to an application.
In our variety by fungicide data from the past three years on corn and soybeans, on average, we have seen a yield bump from a fungicide application in the corn trials of 13.1 bushels per acre and 4 bushels per acre in soybeans. However, each hybrid or variety differs in its response. In corn, we have seen a range of yield bump from 0 to 27 bushels per acre and on soybeans the range is from 0 to 10.4 bushels.
Again, if we are trying to decide if the overall benefits of fungicide outweigh the cost, let’s put it in numbers that make sense. As I wrote this, the futures price for September corn is $6.08 and for soybeans is $14.99. Just in terms of gaining the average yield bump we’ve seen across all varieties for the past three years, for corn you would be looking an extra $43 per acre after the cost of application and a premium fungicide.
FUNGICIDES AND FOLIARS
As mentioned earlier, we have done a lot of work over the years on fungicide and the added benefits they bring to our crop. Some of our recent fungicide work involves in-furrow fungicide applications, specifically with Xyway LFR. For the past three years, we have had trials with this product and variations of other treatments, looking at an agronomically suitable solution for disease control.
Figure 3A lists yield averages for some of the treatments that have been in our trials at both our Boonville and Columbia locations. As you can see from our data, Xyway by itself is bringing a yield advantage of a little more than 3 bushels per acre. However, when you apply it with an over-the-top fungicide at VT-R1 timeframe, we achieved an increase of about 13 bushels per acre. You can see, though, just applying an over-the-top fungicide at the proper timing is bringing equal or better yield benefit.
Does that mean that I believe that Xyway LFR is not a good product? I wouldn’t say that. I believe that it needs to be placed in the right environment for it to show added benefits. When we think about the diseases that Xyway LFR can potentially control, we generally are looking at stalk rots, grey leaf spot and northern corn leaf blight. These diseases overwinter and live on the crop residue in the soil, unlike a disease such as southern rust that overwinters in the South and is blown in with weather patterns every year.
Our testing sites are conventionally tilled, and residue is reduced, so southern rust is the main disease that impacts our yields each year. However, in the northern part of our trade territory, where southern rust isn’t necessarily the driver disease or in no-till fields with high crop residue, I believe that the benefits of Xyway LFR will show a much greater impact. We can see evidence of that in our corn-on-corn data from the past two years. As you can imagine, the crop residue is much higher in this part of the field, even though it is conventional till each year.
Figure 3B shows that Xyway LFR is bringing a much larger yield benefit than in trials with little crop residue. This is still with southern rust as the driver disease, as you can see by greater increase in yield with an over-the-top fungicide that is helping to fight that disease.
Continuing to focus on fungicides, we have conducted application timing studies at both of our sites. The main goal is to show the importance of not only applying a fungicide to the crop but also applying it at the correct timing. For both corn and soybeans, we have had an untreated check, a vegetative application and five timings during the reproductive stages of growth.
The data shown in figures 3C and 3D are the combined averages of these trials for the past three years at both of our locations. For corn, the optimal timing for fungicide application is at VT, which is statistically significant from the rest of the other timings. In soybeans, the window is a little wider from a statistically significant standpoint, with R1-R3 as the optimal timing.
While benefits of fungicides is hopefully evident and proven, there is a way we can boost the fungicide to provide an even better return. Slow-release nitrogen (SRN) gives us that opportunity by working synergistically with fungicides, most importantly those with strobilurins. SRNs provide an efficient method of delivering low-use rate of nitrogen to the plant when it is being stressed. Applying fungicides not only prevents disease but also puts some stress on the crop as the mechanisms of action go to work. Providing nitrogen to the plant allows it to quickly overcome the stress and promote plant growth and health, resulting in more gains.
MFA’s Gold Advantage Trend-B is a slow-release nitrogen product with the added benefit of boron. Boron is an essential nutrient needed during a crop’s reproductive stages for grain development. While boron is not very mobile within the plant, it can be mobile in the soil. When taken up early, boron most likely won’t move enough within the plant to reach areas that need it most. With its mobility in the soil, boron might not be available to be taken up at that time either. Trend-B not only provides nitrogen to help the fungicide promote more efficient plant performance but also helps deliver optimal boron nutrition for final grain development. Proper timing is crucial to get the most out of these applications for both SRNs and fungicides.
We have conducted trials with Trend-B and our Gold Advantage Corn and Soybean foliar products in conjunction with fungicide applications. In figure 3E, you can see the results from the past three years in our soybean trials with these products together. Statistically significant results show that by including either Gold Advantage Soybean or Gold Advantage Trend-B with a fungicide application on soybeans there is an added yield bump of 3 bushels per acre over just fungicide alone and a 7-bushel-per-ace increase over untreated.
In figure 3F, you can see the results of our trials from the past three years on corn with fungicide and Trend-B. As with all our other fungicide trials, we saw an average increase of 14 bushels per acre with a fungicide application and an additional increase of 3 to 4 bushels per acre with Trend-B.
AMS ON SOYBEANS
Behind N, P and K, most corn producers would agree that sulfur is by far the next-most important nutrient. We have seen a large uptick in fertilization of sulfur, mainly due to the lack of atmospheric sulfur that has dwindled over the years. Clean air policies have done an excellent job of removing our atmospheric sulfur that we received as “acid rain.” Sulfur deficiency is opposite of nitrogen since it is immobile in the plant and therefore shows up as early-season yellowing of corn in new leaf tissue.
While recognition of sulfur nutrition has gained traction as necessary for corn, the need for it in soybean nutrition has been slow to be realized. Recently, there has been some interest in yield benefits of applying sulfur to soybeans. Purdue University has been looking at this for several years and has shown some promise in increasing soybean yields. More on how sulfur impacts corn and soybeans can be found in Scott Wilburn’s article from last month’s issue of Today’s Farmer.
With high interest in this topic, we tested applications of ammonium sulfate (AMS) to soybeans at different timings. Our treatments included an untreated check with no added sulfur as well as three different timings of application—at-planting, early vegetative, and reproductive—and three different rates of AMS—10, 20, and 40 pounds of actual sulfur. We saw an uptick in yield of about 2 to 4 bushels per acre with all rates of AMS at planting and early vegetative timings compared to the untreated check. We plan to replicate this trial in 2022 to get multiple years of data.
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