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Pulling double-duty

Two-in-one products can save time and simplify life. Think shampoo-conditioners, clock-radios or laptop-tablets that combine the best features of both into one convenient package.

That same concept is growing in popularity among for­age producers who have discovered the benefits of using dry fertilizer impregnation (DFI) to weed-and-feed their pastures and hay fields. DFI is the process of applying a concentrated herbicide solution to dry fertilizer granules during blending, allowing plant nutrients and weed-control products to be spread at the same time.

“DFI has proven to be a cost-effective way to pair fertility and weed control, and it can offer tremendous time savings during the busy spring season,” said David Moore, MFA Incorporated range and pasture specialist. “MFA has offered this service for several years now, and there’s no doubt adoption is growing. The number of acres we covered last year was way up from the year before.”

The convenience of a two-in-one application is what convinced Mike Theurer and his son-in-law, Darren Gallup, to try DFI on some of the weediest pasture ground on their farm just north of Lockwood, Mo. The pair run a commercial cow-calf operation and raise wheat and soybeans on land that has been in the family for six generations.

“You’re only driving over your pastures once instead of making two passes to put down fertilizer and then your chemical,” Gallup said. “That’s what is most attractive about it—especially now with the cost of diesel.”

He and his father-in-law learned about the practice from their local MFA Produce Exchange in Golden City, which is among MFA facilities that now offer DFI with the “UltiGraz Pasture Weed & Feed” system from Corteva Agriscience. Only a few herbicides are labeled for use with dry fertilizer in this type of system. This year, Moore said most MFA locations will be using DuraCor, a nonrestricted herbicide released by Corteva in spring 2020.

Powered by the first new active ingredient in a pasture herbi­cide in more than 15 years, DuraCor provides broad-spectrum control of range and pasture weeds, including broadleaves, while maintaining grass safety. Its extended control not only stops the weeds that are up and growing but also kills those that germinate later.

In the UltiGraz system, applications are made with a broad­cast spreader just as they would be with fertilizer alone, and then rain incorporates the nutrients and herbicide into the soil. Nearly all the weed control comes from DuraCor’s residual ac­tivity and root uptake, which is one of its strongest advantages, Moore said.

“When we impregnate fertilizer, most of the effect works through the soil, not the prill,” he said. “DuraCor has some­where between 60-90 days’ residual to suppress small or yet unemerged weeds.”

Theurer and Gallup said ragweed and cocklebur are the most troublesome weeds on their farm. Before using DFI, they attempted to control those pesky plants by applying 2,4-D with a mist sprayer.

“It would kind of work, but you had to take the time to do it,” Theurer said. “This was a lot easier and worked really well for us.”

By controlling more weeds, desirable forages respond favor­ably to less competition, Moore said. In fact, for every pound of weeds removed, producers can expect 2 to 5 pounds of grass to grow in its place. Producing grass more efficiently results in more efficient cattle production, which is the ultimate goal, Gallup said.

“If you take care of the land, it takes care of you,” he said. “Making better grass and more of it just makes the cows health­ier and produce bigger and better calves. And if you produce bigger and better calves, people want to buy from you. Just like a craftsman building a house, we take pride in keeping our fields clean and making sure our cows are eating what they’re supposed to eat. That’s important to us.”

While weed control is reduced when using the UltiGraz system—typ­ically achieving 70% to 80% of the results of a conventional applica­tion—Moore said the convenience and yield benefits are worth it.

“You want to fertilize your grass, not your weeds,” Moore said. “DFI allows you to do that. It’s an efficient way to manage weeds on acres that may have not had such control in the past. A lot of producers who have tried DFI had never sprayed pastures before, and they’re seeing how much better it is when they take that competition away. It’s a huge win.”

Plus, UltiGraz allows producers to control weeds in areas that may not be feasible to reach with conventional spraying equipment, said Mike Dawes, manager of MFA Produce Exchange in Golden City.

“You can get closer in around obstacles, such as trees and fencerows, than you can with a boom sprayer,” Dawes said. “That means better weed control on ground you might not be able to cover otherwise.”

There are a few considerations when using DFI, Moore said. Cover­age is king. The herbicide must be applied with at least 200 pounds per acre of dry product to ensure even distribution of the weed-control active ingredient.

Timing of application may also need to be adjusted. The optimal time for DFI is later in the season than typical grass fertilizer applications. For good control on hay fields, timing should be late March to early April, Moore said. On pasture, mid-April to May is an ideal time to take full advantage of the residual control DuraCor provides. 

“One caution I’ll give is that this system is designed to kill broadleaf weeds, not brush,” Moore added. “If you have brush problems, you need a different scenario.”

MFA dedicates equipment to impregnated fertilizer —to be used on pasture and nothing else—to avoid potential for the herbicide to damage sensitive crops. Adding a dye alerts users to the presence of herbicide and makes it easier to tell how well it’s blended.

“There’s just so many crops, soybeans mainly, that this stuff is deadly to,” Dawes said. “We don’t put it in any of our spreader trucks. We have one tender truck that we haul it with. We have designated carts it goes in that never go to a crop field. We don’t want to take the chance of any contamination whatsoever.”

For producers who are seeing resources stretching thinner this growing season, Moore said the UltiGraz Weed & Feed system can help by allowing one less trip across the field and one less application cost while protecting the potential for higher forage yields and more pounds of beef.

“To me, the bottom line is that people are busy enough,” Gallup said. “If you can do two jobs at once—spreading fertilizer and weed control to­gether—it just makes sense. Working smarter, not harder.”

Some 65 MFA locations, mostly in the southern half of Missouri, now have dry fertilizer impreg­nation capabilities. Check with your local MFA manager, agronomist or livestock specialist for more information.

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