Weather or not, Training Camp continues

A WEATHER FORECAST OF 100% rain thwarted plans for MFA’s 2022 Training Camp field day, which was scheduled for Aug. 16 at the 20-acre research site in the Missouri River bot­toms outside Boonville, Mo. But no one complained about the change. After all, precipitation was welcomed in a year when MFA territory experienced wide­spread drought.

Instead, MFA staff adroitly switched last-minute gears and moved the field day program indoors to the Holiday Inn and Expo Center in Columbia, where the company’s annual Kickoff and Buyers Market was slated to start later that day.

“Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t the most cooperative this year for touring the research plots in person, but it was nec­essary to continue on with the training,” said Cameron Horine, MFA precision data manager, who coordinated this year’s Training Camp and more than two dozen other replicated field trials across MFA’s trade territory. “It is important to give insight on new technologies and prod­ucts to our employees and keep them updated as well as reinforcing agronomic principles so they can confidently make recommendations to growers for the upcoming 2023 season.”

More than 300 employees and industry representatives from across MFA territory attended the reconfigured event, which featured 10 different presentations: MorCorn hybrids and MorSoy varieties, herbicide residuals, troubleshooting spreader issues, tar spot and fungicide use, nutrient-use efficiency and nitro­gen stabilizers, summer cover crops in 60-inch corn, silage production, alfalfa management and carbon:nitrogen ratio and nitrogen tie-up in corn.

Later in the summer, tours of the Train­ing Camp site were available to smaller groups of MFA employees and customers upon request. In addition to Boonville, MFA also conducts small-plot research on a 35-acre farm east of Columbia. The program not only includes studies designed by the MFA agronomy team but also evaluates emerging products from other agricultural vendors.

“We’re using these sites to test products to make sure they fit within our portfolio and that we’re bringing the best to our custom­ers,” Horine said. “But the other reason for our trials is applied agronomics. How is this going to help 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.”

Although details on many trials won’t be available until after harvest, 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 2023 issue of Today’s Farmer.

STUDIES ON SILAGE

While grain production is most prevalent among row-crop growers in MFA territory, there has been increased interest in silage production—especially in years when drought condi­tions reduce productivity. That’s why, for the first time, MFA researchers devoted Training Camp real estate to study silage production, Horine said.

“In general, our research is solely focused on row crops for the grain market, not necessarily row crops for livestock markets,” Horine said. “The last couple of years, we’ve had a lot of requests to see some silage data, so we decided to dedicate space to study corn hybrids from that aspect.”

The silage plots consisted of eight different hybrids—four MorCorn, two DeKalb and two Brevant—at each research site. They were planted like other variety trials in four-row plots with four replications. Results are in the charts at left.

“We harvested the plots for weight so we could record tonnage per acre for each hybrid,” Horine said. “But high yield doesn’t necessarily mean high quality when it comes to silage. So we also pulled subsamples and sent them to Dairyland Labs to analyze important parameters such as total digestibility, pro­tein, fiber, net energy and relative feed quality.”

Though some growers may chop their corn­fields for silage as a salvage measure, Horine said MFA’s research is intended to help producers intentionally plan and manage a crop for silage.

“We wanted to give our agronomists and livestock specialists more confidence in the hy­brids they’re recommending for silage,” he said. “Specifically, we needed some of our own data on MorCorn silage hybrids, which helps show the flexibility of our line.”

FEED BETWEEN THE ROWS

Another new study for MFA agronomy researchers this year involved planting a summer cover crop mix between 60-inch rows of corn. The novel idea was conceived by MFA’s conservation specialists, Adam Jones and Landry Jones, for diversified

operations that include both row crops and livestock. The practice achieves a dual purpose—producing a cash grain crop while providing forage that’s ready to feed right after harvest.

“A lot of producers in our territory already turn cows out into the cornstalks and let them graze, so this just gives them extra material to eat,” Landry Jones explained to the Training Camp audience. “The cover crop helps with weed control while the cash crop is growing and then provides forage for livestock as soon as the combine leaves the field. Using that green, grow­ing material to turn forage into beef can very valuable to that operation.”

For the trial, the agronomists devised a cover crop mix suitable for summer, made up of cowpeas, millet, sun hemp, gourds and African cabbage. The corn was planted along with the other hybrid trials on May 12 at a population of 30,000 plants per acre, and then the cover crop was interseeded between the rows. The wider rows allow sunlight to reach the cover crop as the corn plants mature. Horine said the plot will be harvested for grain to determine what impact the cover crop may have had on yield, and the longevity of the forage growth will be measured as well.

“We planted the 60-inch rows at the rate of what 30-inch rows would be, so it’s tight,” Horine said. “Within a row, the plants are about 3 inches apart instead of normally 6.5 inch­es apart. Hopefully, this will allow us to determine return on investment by calculating grain yield along with the added benefits of feed for livestock. Knowing how that cover crop is going to affect our cash crop is very important.”

Soil health improvements provided by such a system should also be considered among the ROI measurements, Jones added.

“The longer we can have desirable plants growing on the landscape, the better our soil will be,” he said. “Cover crops positively impact soil health, water infiltration and storing of carbon. Plus, incorporating livestock can have profound effects on soil health because of the nutrients those animals return to the field. There’s a lot of benefits to these practices that are not necessarily tied to the dollars you get at the end of the day.”

Admittedly, Horine said, 60-inch corn and summer cover crops won’t fit every operation, but the study is intended to demonstrate MFA’s adaptability and innovation.

“It’s something different and something interesting, but we re­alize it’s not for everybody,” he said. “To make it work, you need to have a field that’s fenced so you can contain your animals. It could be a potential for marginal ground, where we’re not push­ing yields to the max, or for somebody who needs extra forage for their livestock.”

BEYOND DISEASE CONTROL

The good news for growers this year was that disease pressure was minimal in most crops. But that’s bad news for agronomic researchers who want to study the effects of crop protection products on disease control.

The silver lining, Horine said, is that a season with low disease pressure provides an opportunity to study the plant health benefits of products such as fungicides and biostimulants without the added variable of disease.

“For years, we have talked about the benefits of fungicides being applied to your crop, mainly for disease control, but also overall plant health and yield boost,” Horine said. “This year, we should have a really good opportunity to see just how much advantage we can gain in these areas because we don’t have to consider disease pressure in the picture.”

At both sites, multi-year research continued to evaluate fun­gicide application timing for corn and soybeans. Studies were designed with an untreated check, a vegetative application and five timings during the reproductive stages of growth. Different fungicide brands and their effect on various hybrids and varieties were also considered.

New this year, Horine and his team took these trials a step further by testing combinations of fungicides and biostimulants or plant growth regulators (PGR). Biostimulants are substances or micro-organisms that stimulate a plant’s natural processes to benefit nutrient uptake, nutrient-use efficiency and crop quality. PGRs are synthetic or biological compounds that positively benefit and modify the plant’s growth and development. These types of products have garnered attention among growers in recent years and spawned multiple compa­nies and products entering the marketplace.

“We’ve got a lot of progressive farmers who want to push yields, and they’re looking for that next thing to give them a boost,” Horine said. “A biostimulant or PGR could fit that bill. We have quite a few studies with these products alone, but we also wanted to know if there’s some extra advantage to using them in combination with certain fungicides. With the forecast of fertilizer markets and the state of political change in farming practices, these product types may become necessary to continue to push our yields forward in the future.”

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