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Let’s get back to the basics

For growers heading into a new crop season, there’s certainly been a lot going on. We’ve experienced interest rate increases, heard what we can and can’t Jessedo with dicamba in Xtend soybeans, dealt with market fluctuations and seen changes in chemical pricing. Even with all these complexities, sometimes the solution can be something as simple as going back to the basics.

The first “basic” to consider is soil fertility. That is the most important driver in crop production. Without the proper soil pH and fertility, we cannot maximize any in-season application. When I think about soil fertility, I recall watching my mom balancing the checkbook. She’d sit at the kitchen table several nights a week making sure family finances were squared away. Why did she do this? She didn’t want to overdraft and bounce a check. The same concept is true for our soil bank account. We must know the fertility levels, especially potassium and phosphorus, to make sure we don’t draw out more than we put in.

It starts with a soil sample, and there are different ways of getting this data. Composite sampling is as basic as you can get. It’s like calling the bank and asking how much is in your checking account. That’s fine and dandy. But what if you have uncashed checks or automatic withdrawals scheduled? If you don’t know that info, an overdraft can occur easily.
What’s better than composite sampling? That’s grid sampling, offered in our Nutri-Track program. Grid sampling is like my mother’s approach to balancing the checkbook. She tallied every check written and every cash withdrawal to know exactly what was in the account.

“Have a plan, cover the basics, make agronomically correct decisions and do what has been proven to make money on your farm.”

Next, let’s talk dicamba. We’ve all heard by now when it comes to XtendiMax, Engenia and Tavium products, however much is in the retail space is all there is to be sold. There is probably not going to be enough to cover every acre. The best way to combat a shortage of dicamba is simple—don’t let weeds come up. And this advice goes for other technology platforms such as Enlist as well.

I recommend that growers spend more on their residual programs this year, specifically front-loading their pre-emergent herbicides. This can be done multiple ways. The product rate can be increased, you can add more actives or use more modes of action. The method depends on the driver weeds in a given field.

For example, you can use a standard rate of Boundary, which is 2 quarts per acre, spiked with 2.5-3 ounces of Zidua to get a longer length of residual. This does two things. First, you’ll see less weed competition early in the season. Data that shows early season is the most important time to be weed free. Secondly, when weeds do break, they won’t break as fast and as hard, which gets you further down the road and also lets you spray smaller weeds. We all know smaller weeds are easier to control.

Earlier, I mentioned weather. No one can control the weather, but a lot of meteorologists are saying we could have another drought year. Let me remind you that you cannot save your way to prosperity. Again, set the season up for success by making sure fertility is in order. In past drought years, we have looked at fields that were grid sampled and recommendations followed so that pH,

P and K levels were optimum. These fields may have not yielded “good” but always out-yielded fields that did not have optimum fertility.

Markets are also something we can not control. When talking about going back to basics, it’s good to know what you have invested in your crop before you start. This could change in season, but having a detailed spreadsheet of cost per acre and break-even levels is important. Use that information to contract enough to cover your inputs. This takes some stress off a grower in season. I guess it comes down to how much you want to gamble.

No doubt, there are a lot of pressures out there for growers. I encourage you to have a plan, cover the basics, make agronomically correct decisions and do what has been proven to make money on your farm.

CLICK TO READ the full April 2024 Issue of Today's Farmer magazine.

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Managing metabolic resistance in weeds

Dealing with herbicide-resistant weeds is nothing new for row-crop producers in MFA’s trade territory. Most of us in the farming community, myself included, have faced these rebellious weeds one way or another for an entire career—or even a lifetime, if you were born after the mid-1980s. Waterhemp, for example, has shown evolving tolerance to many major herbicide sites of action that we use to manage weeds in row crops.

If this is a familiar issue, why write about it? Simply put, we’re seeing resistance become more complex, requiring us to take weed management up a notch. Many herbicides that were effective are now less or not effective at all when applied after waterhemp has emerged. In most reported cases, resistance is linked to a single, specific mutation at the target site in the plant’s DNA. As a result, herbicides such as Pursuit, atrazine, glyphosate and Flexstar are no longer as effective on waterhemp as they once were.

“Producers need to be aware of metabolic resistance and what it could mean for their weed management program.”

Farmers have been managing this resistance by returning to soil residual herbicides. Mixing multiple modes of action in the spray tank and overlapping those residuals have been excellent strategies. However, some waterhemp populations in the U.S. are breaking through certain residual herbicides with a different type of resistance—metabolic resistance.

Like human metabolism breaks down food, plant metabolism also processes substances, in this case, herbicides. In weeds that have developed metabolic resistance, the herbicide’s active ingredients are broken down into nontoxic byproducts that don’t kill the plant.

Metabolic resistance in weeds is not widespread, but the true extent is unclear. Researching herbicide resistance is a labor-intensive process that involves sampling and collecting seeds from suspected fields and evaluating them under greenhouse conditions. Regardless, producers and agronomic advisors need to be aware of metabolic resistance and what it could mean for their weed management program when they encounter it.

Weed size appears to be a factor in controlling weeds with metabolic resistance. Even though some waterhemp plants may exhibit metabolic resistance, control of small seedlings less than 2 inches tall can be achieved with mesotrione (Callisto or Explorer). However, this is likely a short-term solution if practices are not altered or soil residuals are not activated by sufficient rainfall. Another concern is that other herbicides may not work as effectively. Some data shows that metolachlor and 2,4-D may not control plants with metabolism-based resistance.

How does metabolic resistance change your herbicide programs? So far, the best tactic is to prevent weeds from producing seeds. Integrated weed management and early action on escaped weeds are crucial. Removing escapes during the growing season is much easier than letting one female waterhemp plant release 100,000 seeds or more, worsening the problem in following seasons. Chemical recommendations need to be evaluated field by field, but limiting weed emergence is a great first step.

Soil residuals are an economical and effective way to control most weeds, so do not steer away from them. See-and-spray technologies, which offer precision chemical application, are tools for robust post-emergence applications with multiple effective modes of action when applied to small areas. This method is likely more cost-effective than broadcasting a multiple mode-of-action herbicide mixture on an entire field when weeds are absent. Precision tillage tools can also help spot and mechanically remove weeds but may require additional trips across the field.

Basic agronomic fundamentals also play a role and cannot be ignored. Don’t underestimate the power that proper seed placement and good crop establishment have on reducing weed competition. Selecting the right corn hybrid, soybean variety and planting population for your acre could help by limiting the amount of sunlight that reaches the soil. Light quality can impact weed seed germination, which is why covering the soil with crop leaf foliage is important.

Metabolic-based resistance in weeds is a significant challenge, but producers can minimize its impact with planning and proactive, integrated strategies. Consult your MFA agronomist for more information.

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Does early equal better?

Interest in planting soybeans early to maximize yield potential has increased in recent years. To understand why early-planted soybeans may increase yield, we must look at two very different disciplines: plant physiology and astronomy.

WilburnA soybean plant’s life cycle, including the onset of reproduction or flower initiation, is regulated by night length. Soybeans with shorter relative maturities need less darkness to begin flowering than longer-maturing soybeans. This is why longer maturities are selected for later planting dates, such as double-crop soybeans following wheat. The longer maturity allows the plant to grow more vegetatively before flowering, increasing sites for flowering and yield potential.

That’s the plant physiology portion of the discussion. Now for the astronomy. The first day of summer occurs around June 20-21. This day, the summer solstice, has the longest period of daylight and shortest period of darkness. Soybeans “know” this due to the chemical phytochrome, which is present in plants that have developed trifoliates. As long as soybeans are large enough to contain phytochrome, they will begin flowering at a certain point that’s triggered by length of darkness. That point depends on relative maturity. There are about 10 days between maturity groups, so if Group 3 starts flowering a few days after the solstice, with all else being equal, you can expect Group 4 to start around 10 days later.

Where does the increased yield potential from early-planted soybeans come from? Let’s use an illustration to help explain it. Imagine that the growing season is not measured by days but by a trip up a mountain and down the other side. The peak represents the summer solstice and the least amount of darkness for the year. Every night on the other side of that peak will be a little longer until the winter solstice in December, when the process reverses.

Using the mountain analogy, a soybean passing through a certain elevation that triggers flowering on the back side of the peak will have also traveled through that elevation on the front side. If there is enough growth to produce phytochrome, the plant will start flowering at the earlier “elevation” or period of darkness. Plants that begin to flower prior to the solstice will eventually sense that the nights are still getting shorter and will stop flowering until that same period after the solstice and then flower again. If retained, the flowers produced during the early period provide the opportunity for increased yield deep in the canopy before the rest of the plant shades those flowers.

Understanding these dynamics helps to inform our variety selection. Remember, a Group 3 soybean flowers closer to the solstice than a Group 4. If we want early-planted soybeans, we must plant Group 4 varieties first because their photoperiod will not only occur farther behind the solstice but also that same distance before the solstice.

There are some cautions associated with this practice. Late frost is an obvious one. I spent several early mornings last April exchanging texts with nervous growers who were monitoring freezing temperatures around their bean fields. Not only was the stand at risk, but if a replant was needed, that expense would most likely fall on the grower.

Early flowering also decreases the window for post herbicide applications. Liberty and Xtend may not be applied after R1 (flower on any node), and Enlist may not be applied after R2 (open flower at one of the two uppermost nodes). Changing practices to encourage early flowers only to lose them with an off-label application doesn’t make much sense, so residual herbicides and, in my opinion, narrow rows that shade the ground sooner are key to making this practice work.

In addition to narrow rows, seed treatments are table stakes for early soybeans to manage stand-
robbing fungi and the effects of sudden death syndrome later in the season.

Early-planted soybeans may also benefit from sulfur at planting. Cool soils do not provide as much sulfur through mineralization as warmer soils do, so an application near planting may be beneficial.

Most of us live by the adage of not putting all of our eggs in one basket. We do that with seed varieties, investments and, for some of us, actual eggs. Early-planted soybeans may be a good fit for some of your acres, but date diversification may be prudent to manage the challenges that come with the practice.

Read more of the Feb. 2024 Today's Farmer Magazine Issue HERE.

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Reflections on 2023 crops can enlighten next season

Choosing right seed genetics, managing disease are keys to protecting performance and yield

It’s hard to believe another harvest season is in the books and plans for the 2024 cropping season are well underway. The genetics in our corn hybrids and soybean varieties really helped carry us through this challenging season. Even so, this year’s yield numbers have been all over the board.

In MFA replicated plot trials for corn, which includes MFA’s MorCorn brand and partner brands Brevant, NK and DeKalb, yield ranged from 100 to nearly 300 bushels per acre for longer-maturity hybrids. Test weights were certainly down. In many spots, cooler nighttime temperatures during the summer allowed corn to recover more effectively.

As for soybeans, many producers have been pleasantly surprised with yield. Those August rains really paid dividends, despite the dry spring and summer. Many yield estimates are in the mid to upper 50-bushel-per-acre range, but the lows and highs range from mid-30s to upper 70s. In areas that struggled with extreme lack of moisture, some producers were forced to bale soybeans for forage. This mainly occurred in the east-central part of Kansas.

DougAs I reflect on the growing season, there were several surprises given the conditions we had. First, we hit an early onset of charcoal rot in spots, sparked by dry soil conditions coupled with warmer soil temperatures during the second week of April through the middle of May. This disease thrives in warm, dry environments, which we typically experience later in the growing season—more so in the reproductive growth stages when pods begin to fill (around R5). Including wheat in our crop rotation can help manage charcoal rot because wheat is not a host for the disease. Seed treatments to manage soybean cyst nematodes (SCN) can also help. SCN causes physical damage to soybean root hairs, creating an open door for pathogens to invade. In several cases this year, other diseases were present in addition to charcoal rot, and the combination of multiple pathogens contributed to declining plant health.

Tar spot movement into new areas also surprised me, even more so than my other observations this year. Most of our internal reports of the disease picked up during the second week of July when many fungicides were beginning to be applied. I think greater producer awareness of this newer disease has contributed to more sightings and documented cases, but reports of widespread devastation of the corn crop—like what has been documented in northeastern Kansas this year—fortunately did not develop in much of MFA’s trade territory.

What has been dramatic is the difference in visual symptoms of tar spot where foliar fungicides have been applied and where they have not, especially where leaf disease severity ratings exceed 5%. Producers had the most success in managing tar spot when tolerant hybrids are planted and when fungicides containing two or more modes of action are applied at the VT (tassel is fully emerged) to R3 (kernels filled with milky fluid) growth stages. Keep in mind, tar spot overwinters on crop residue and is not carried in from the south like southern rust.

The last thing I want to mention is to be aware that gray leaf spot, northern corn leaf blight and other diseases have not gone away. Be mindful of those diseases and historical trends in your own fields as you make cropping plans with your MFA advisor.

On the management side of things, having an initial cropping plan led to many producers having success this year. How success was ultimately measured or determined may have looked different from producer to producer and farm to farm depending on the goals set for the cropping season. Expectations were certainly modified for many as the season progressed. Not having a plan and letting emotion settle in caused challenges this year and potentially resulted in lost revenue and profit. Deciding not to replant in early June when much of the corn acreage was planted in April to early May could have been a costly mistake for some.

If conversations about the 2024 cropping season haven’t been initiated yet, I would encourage you to reach out to your trusted MFA advisor. Start working through some of the challenges you experienced in 2023 to make more bushels and lower your cost of production for next year.

Read More of the December 2023 / January 2024 Today's Farmer magazine Issue.

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Don’t let field edges drag you down

Nutri-Track can help maximize profit by increasing yield, lowering production costs

In my 12 years at MFA, I’ve seen a lot of changes in technology, farming practices, yield and yield expectations. When I started, it was pretty common for farmers to tell me their yield goals were 150-bushel corn, 45-bushel soybeans and maybe 50-bushel wheat. They would attempt to accomplish those goals with a flat rate application of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K).

In 2023—now heading into the 2024 crop—I’m more likely to hear 190-bushel corn, 60-bushel soybeans and 80-bushel wheat followed by variable-rate applications of at least P and K and mostly likely the N, too. The hybrids, varieties and technology we use today make those yield goal numbers not only doable but also expected.

Are we aiming high enough or letting field edges drag down profit potential?

DavinI use the term “field edges” loosely, referring to areas that do not produce like the more productive parts of crop fields. Whether those lower yields are caused by trees, compaction at field entrances and equipment-staging areas, low spots where water sits longer, or clay knobs or sandy knolls, you cannot positively impact the productivity of these areas without major physical modifications and investment. Maybe those physical changes need to happen, but, in the meantime, those areas may be limiting your true field potential.

One physical modification would be taking these acres out of production completely. You might participate in a government program such as installing pollinator habitat, or you could remove those acres from the equation of your farming operation. Fertility could then be placed elsewhere to boost yields in areas that might benefit from a few more pounds of N, P and K. If you haven’t already done so, I encourage you to put a pencil to those areas and determine if you might make more money by farming fewer total acres with better fertility placement.

MFA’s Nutri-Track system works because it helps lower your cost of production per bushel through improved placement of fertility and better management practices. When you enroll in Nutri-Track, your local precision agronomy specialist will sit down with you and use yield data to analyze your true profit potential in those fields.

Spatially collected yield data is the key to this whole process. Accurate yield data is essential to develop the best fertilizer recommendations, determine where we need to apply more or less to promote the highest yields, and achieve the best nutrient use efficiency values we can get. When doing this, it’s important to focus on the areas of the field we can impact and push yield there, while not over-supplying nutrients to areas where they would not provide an economic return.

Analyzing yield data to produce yield zones can help you maximize profit through increased bushels at lower production costs.

When you sit down with your MFA team to make your fertility plan for next year with a yield goal in mind, are you including those areas that have maxed out their potential? Consider this. If your field averaged 200 bushels of corn per acre, and you included 10 acres of a 40-acre field that only averaged 150, the other 30 acres averaged 217 bushels per acre—not the 200-bushel average. What would happen if you fertilized for that higher yield? My guess is you might push yield even higher than 217 bushels per acre on that ground, further maximizing your production potential and profit levels.

Higher yields at lower costs of production can add profit to your operation. The Nutri-Track system is one way MFA can partner with your operation to maximize your bottom line at the end of the year. Don’t let your field averages incorrectly frame your thought process when it comes to your crop fertility plan for next season.

Retail Central precision manager
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CLICK HERE to read more from this November Today's Farmer Magazine.

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