Crops

No simple solution to micronutrient management

Some days, it seems I get more questions about micronutrients and their management in crops than any­thing else—and not without reason. They are the least understood and most often ignored nutrients.

While micronutrients are abso­lutely critical for plant growth and optimum yields, they are only need­ed in extremely low amounts, most of them only a fraction of a pound per acre. Typically, we have optimum amounts of these nutrients to supply the crop’s needs. Also, diagnosing micronutrient deficiencies and prescribing applications are difficult because most agronomists have never seen these issues outside of a textbook. Ultimately, this complexity adds up to many misconceptions and seemingly contradicting claims related to micronutrients.

Of the 17 plant-essential nutrients, eight are classified as micronutri­ents: boron, chloride, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum, zinc and nickel. They are considered micro­nutrients because they are found in extremely small amounts in plants. A macronutrient such as potassium may make up 1% of the plant’s dry weight, but a micronutrient such as boron will only make up 0.002%.

These nutrients are critical for sev­eral functions in the plant. Typically they are used as catalysts for other reactions or as minor ingredients of critical plant components like cell walls. We don’t have room to go into details for each micronutrient, so if you are interested in learning more, check out this publication from the University of Missouri’s Master Gardener series, found at bit.ly/MG_micronutrients.

When managing micronutrients, the first thing to understand is that they are seldom in low supply in the soil. Zinc is the only micronutrient that we commonly use a soil test to diagnose deficiencies in MFA’s trade territory. Adequate levels of other micronutrients are typically found in our soil profile.

However, sometimes deficiencies can arise and cause yield loss even when we have “good” soil test levels. That’s because the growing envi­ronment is more important than a soil test in many cases. Soil pH, organic matter levels and heavy clay or sandy soils (as indicated by cation exchange capacity) tend to be a bet­ter indicator of micronutrient needs than soil test levels.

Proper soil pH is something you can control, so lime applications— preferably variable-rate—can help with some micronutrient needs. Soil texture and organic matter are different. These are soil properties we can’t easily adjust, if at all. Sandy soils, for example, are most likely to exhibit micronutrient deficiencies. Just as we should spoon-feed nitro­gen and potassium on these soils, we may need to look at supplementing some micronutrients as well.

I also want to address growers who are trying to break yield barriers. Often, these producers are using many micronutrient packages, sometimes multiple times in a sea­son. While there is nothing wrong with this approach, it is typically unnecessary for our production fields. Taking advantage of these micronutrient applications requires an extreme understanding of the soils in each field and dedication to analyzing the crop in season. I appreciate what these producers do, but, in many cases, the solutions are tailored specifically to their local conditions. Use caution when apply­ing recommendations not made for your cropping environment.

As you likely realize by now, there is no simple, one-size-fits-all approach to micronutrient man­agement. If anyone tries to market micronutrients as a stand-alone solution, you should proceed with caution. Where does that leave us? In short, be diligent about checking your crop for issues, especially in more challenging soils, like heavy clays or sands. A good agronomist can be invaluable here. MFA Crop- Trak consultants, for example, see a wide variety of local soils and crops and can help you find solutions to address problems quickly.

If I had to make a broad gener­alization about what micronutrient fertilizers to use in our area, I would say zinc and boron—zinc because we often see low levels and boron because of its mobility in the soil. Situations may call for other micro­nutrients, but responses to these nu­trients can be few and far between.

My best advice is to focus on the basics, then keep your eyes open and don’t be afraid to ask questions if you see something unusual. Be sure to take care of any other fertility issues before chasing micronutrients. Soil pH, nitrogen, phosphorus, po­tassium and sulfur are critical to op­timum yields and must be addressed to gain any value from a micronutri­ent application. Micronutrients can play a part in achieving higher yields, but you must pay attention the en­tire system, not just one component, to be successful.

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Nutrients when they’re needed the most

With higher fertility prices and concerns about supply, there’s increased interest in foliar nutrition this growing season—when to use it, how it works and what bene­fits it brings when added to other applications.

MFA’s Gold Advantage foliar nutrition line includes products for soybeans, corn and small grains. Gold Advantage formulations contain nitrogen, sulfur, zinc, mag­nesium, iron, manganese, molybde­num and copper. Let’s look at what each nutrient does for the plant.

Sulfur aids in seed production, helps with chlorophyll formation and is an integral part of the plant’s amino acids. Zinc also aids in for­mation of seed and plays a role in plant growth hormone production. Boron contributes to pollination— more specifically in pollen tube growth—as well as seed and cell wall formation. Iron also promotes formation of chlorophyll.

Molybdenum helps enzymes convert nitrogen to a usable form. Manganese helps with digestion of glyphosate and is an activator for at least 35 different enzymes. Magne­sium also contributes to chlorophyll formation and improves mobility and utilization of phosphorus. Cop­per functions in photosynthesis and seed development.

Foliar nutrition is designed around plant health, but it is not meant to replace products such as DAP, potash, AMS, zinc sulfate or Granubor. Doing the math, if Gold Advantage weighs 10 pounds per gallon and 1 quart is being applied, there is only a 10th, 100th and even a 1,000th of a unit of these nutrients included.

How does Gold Advantage help maximize plant health benefits and ultimately yields? First, we need sound soil fertility. And that starts with a fertility plan. Personally, I like a “build and maintenance” plan. With this approach, growers build their fertility levels to an optimum range and then maintain those levels through crop removal. It’s like having a checking account. If your optimum dollar amount to “build” is $2,000 and $500 is spent, then maintenance would require deposit­ing $500 back in the account.

Once the field’s fertility is on point, application timing is how we best realize the plant health benefits of these products. We want to feed our crops foliar nutrition when it’s needed the most in their growth.

With Gold Advantage Corn, we recommend application in the V4 to V6 timeframe. That is when post-emergence herbicides are be­ing applied, so we can include Gold Advantage in that herbicide pass. This period is important in a corn plant’s life because it’s when ear size is determined. A healthier plant at that growth stage sets the plant up for maximum yield.

Gold Advantage Soybean should be applied during a similar time frame, when the post-emergence herbicide is going out, normally sometime between V3 and V5. Soybeans have a lag period from slightly after emergence till about V5 or V6, when they make a big jump in growth. Helping the plant more quickly overcome that lag time leads to more nodes on the plant and, in turn, provides more places for pods to be set.

Let’s switch gears and talk about Trend-B, our nitrogen foliar product that contains added boron. Its anal­ysis is 24-0-0-1B. We recommend 1 gallon per acre, which delivers 2.4 units of nitrogen and 0.1 unit of boron. Just like the other Gold Advantage products, Trend-B pro­motes plant heath and maximizes yield. And we use timing to do that.

Both in corn and soybeans, we like to add Trend-B with a fungicide application. Timing should be R1 to R2 on corn and R3 to R4 on soy­beans. Corn is pollinating during that time, and it is vital to mitigate stress. We can achieve stress relief with Trend-B and a fungicide such as Trivapro in corn and Miravis Top in beans. Fungicide makes the plant healthier which, for lack of a better term, makes it hungry. Adding Trend-B provides readily available nitrogen for the plant. The added boron in Trend-B also helps with pollination and seed development.

In soybeans, we want to hit that R3-R4 timing for a different reason. During this stage, the plant is setting pods and starting to fill the seed, and boron helps with that. But what is also going on in a soybean’s life? Nodulation is slowing down. That means nitrogen production is also slowing down. Providing available nitrogen at this critical time boosts plant health and helps maximize yields, the ultimate goal in crop production.

Gold Advantage foliar nutrition products cannot replace typical fertilizer applications, but they aid in plant efficiency. They’re simply more tools in the toolbox. Check with your MFA agronomist for more details on how Gold Advan­tage and Trend-B can benefit your crops this season.

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Good data in equals good data out

Recently on social media, there were posts showing how a producer was able to mount his three iPads and multiple monitors inside his cab most efficiently. While that may seem a little excessive, it got me thinking of how common it is to have more than one display or tablet inside of a tractor or com­bine cab these days. We’ve got a John Deere monitor controlling the AutoSteer function of the tractor, Ag Leader display controlling the planter, and an iPad to check in on the other planter a couple fields over. That scenario is very real in today’s farming operations.

What is the point of all this tech­nology inside modern agriculture equipment? Data, data, data!

Today’s farmers are collecting mountains of data on everything from crop performance to ma­chinery efficiency to help them make decisions across their whole operations. This data can be used for fertility management, creating zones for variable-rate planting, helping to drive seed purchasing decisions, in-field trials and more. The list goes on and on.

Collecting data is the easy part. Turn on your precision equipment, and you are logging some sort of data. Managing that data and linking it all together in a way that makes sense is a whole other chal­lenge. Most precision companies have the capability of sending your data off to the cloud to be received remotely at your office computer. Some growers still use USB drives for removing data from their field computers. How you are gathering the data doesn’t matter. What mat­ters is what you do with that data once you have it collected.

Data files can be large and cumbersome to manage. To help put this data into a usable format, producers have access to software such as Summit or Sirrus from Proagrica, SMS from Ag Leader, My John Deere from John Deere, and FieldView from Climate, to name a few. The first decision producers must make is which software is right for their operation.

The saying “good data in equals good data out” could not be truer when a grower is using this infor­mation to make solid decisions on the farm. One common issue I run across when working with my growers is the inputting of infor­mation to their monitors. Naming your fields seems so simple but can often be overlooked. You know your fields by looking at them on a map, but not everyone does! Most displays utilize a grower/farm/field format. If you take a few minutes to input this information accurately, it can save you and your agronomist time on the backside when discuss­ing fields.

A major offense is not changing your grower/farm/field in the moni­tor, leaving a conglomerate of fields that were soybeans and another for corn. This makes a huge challenge for the agronomist and the grower alike when trying to filter these files to individual fields after the fact.

Another common mistake is entering or not entering hybrid and variety information in the cab when planting. Most producers would like to see how individual seed products performed across their operation. If you are taking the time to sit down and place a hybrid or variety for optimal performance on every acre, entering the individual seed product information is a must.

When reading as-applied planting data, it is useful to know whether the crop is corn or soybeans. But knowing the particular hybrid or variety is much more powerful when evaluating performance on your acres. I know you probably have a notebook where you’ve writ­ten this information, but too often those notations become victim to the great unknown. At that point we are giving our best guess on what took place in that field. Your field computer does a great job of organizing and storing this data if we help it along by recording infor­mation accurately.

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Pollinator plots put unproductive acres to work

Last year, as part of a larger col­laborative, MFA assisted in applying for special funding through USDA to install field border pollinator plantings. This funding is from a program within the Natural Re­sources Conservation Service called the Regional Conservation Partner­ship Program (RCPP). The funding pool is provided with the intention of attracting diverse applicants with priorities that can be regionally specific.

The ability to engage multiple partners is critical when applying and retaining as much federal fund­ing for good conservation projects in our trade territory as possible. We certainly believe we have the case to be able to best utilize these funds in Missouri. For the project discussed here, MFA’s partners in­clude Missouri Department of Con­servation, Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Missouri Corn, Missouri Soybean, Bayer, Missouri Rural Water Association, Quail For­ever, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy, Associated Electric Cooperative Incorporated, The Fertilizer Institute and Missouri River Bird Observatory.

The amount of data we can col­lect off an acre of row-crop produc­tion in 2022 is nearly endless—soil, tillage, weather, imagery, applica­tions, yield, etc. All this informa­tion blends in to help identify the unique production of each acre. This data means nothing if it’s not used within the operation. It can also be used to decipher where the profit comes from within the field. When looking at it holistically, the data begins to make sense. Tak­ing acres out of production is an emotional decision, and it can be a tough conversation to have with family or a landowner. However, it’s important to look at the farm as a business and make informed decisions.

With all the data accrued, we can make extremely accurate pollinator seedings that remove acres where we’re losing money and/or time within the operation. What would it mean to eliminate the parts of the field that only yield 20-bushel soybeans or those areas where we spend 10 minutes of each pass turning and backing to grab an extra half acre? Removing some small areas can have a big impact on pollinators, wildlife and “farma­bility” of a particular piece of land.

In a rural landscape that contains monoculture crops or pastures, flowering plants can become a limiting factor for pollinator foraging. The first step to creating good pollinator habitat is to include native species. When making these additions, it’s critical to make sure that the blooms can be used by the species of bees, butterflies and oth­er pollinators that live here. Many exotic ornamental species create blooms that are inaccessible to native bees or don’t make nectar or pollen in quantities to be useful.

Once we have a diverse selection of native flowering plants estab­lished, it will attract all kinds of na­tive pollinators and insects. Native plants and insects are also shelter and food for all wildlife, including animals that many of us look to as game species. Plus, the plots can add tremendous aesthetic value to rural property.

I personally believe these prac­tices and small areas of pollinator habitat should exist on nearly every farm across our state. And our dedicated RCPP pool of funding can help. The first step in acquiring these funds is to visit online at precisionagconservation.com. This is our partner website that was created to collect inquiries. At this site, enter some basic information about your farm. Someone from MFA will reach out to put together farm data and help make sure we are looking at the right acres. With plan in hand, an application into USDA will be prioritized for fund­ing within certain counties. operating divisions and get updated on highlights from their respective regions.

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Get acquainted with adjuvants before spraying

Supply chain constraints in the U.S. over the past year have caused consumers to become acquainted with unfamiliar product brands that perform similarly to one they use regularly. Ultimately, product substitutions provided by a retailer should have little impact on the consumer, as long as the alternative performs the same function, has minimal or no quality difference when compared with the desired product choice, and the consumer’s goal is achieved.

Rest assured, this is not another article about supply chain issues. Rather, it highlights the importance of proper adjuvant selection—espe­cially when maximizing herbicide efficacy with products that may be unfamiliar to growers.

There are several categories of adjuvants, grouped based on function: activator adjuvants, spray modifiers, and utility adjuvants. I won’t cover utility adjuvants, which are formulated to change physical characteristics of the spray solution. They include buffering, antifoam and drift-control agents.

Activator adjuvants are designed to improve the “activity” of the pesticide, typically by increasing its absorption rate and reducing the surface tension on the leaf. Activa­tor adjuvants include surfactants, oils and nitrogen-based fertilizers.

Some glyphosate formulations, such as Roundup brands, come “pre-loaded” with an activator adjuvant already in the product to maximize herbicide performance and provide consistent weed control under normal, stress-free growing conditions. Credit 41 Extra is another example of pre-loaded glyphosate. Non-ionic surfactants (NIS) are the preferred choice for glyphosate herbicides because they reduce surface tension and provide more droplet coverage on the leaf surface. Without an NIS, the spray droplet beads up on the leaf, like an automotive window treatment causes water to shed from glass. The goal is to get a lethal dose of glyphosate through the leaf cuticle and other waxy barriers that protect the plant from the environment.

Several generic glyphosate for­mulas are available, and I anticipate more will be used in 2022 than previously. Products that need an NIS adjuvant include AgSaver 5.4 Glyphosate, Vanish Max, Alligare Glyphosate 5.4, and Glypex 5 Extra. MFA offers Astute Xtra, Astute and Astute Lite brands in its Crop Advantage NIS lineup.

Crop oil concentrates (COCs), also activator adjuvants, are effec­tive in softening and dissolving the leaf’s waxy cuticle. These adjuvants must be included with postemer­gence grass herbicides such as Volunteer or Assure II; the bleach­ing herbicides Armezon, Laudis and Explorer; and Atrazine. Herbicide performance is typically more con­sistent when a COC is added under dry conditions or cool weather.

More often, COCs cause in­creased crop response when com­pared with an NIS. Only under cer­tain circumstances and crop growth stages is a COC recommended with some labeled synthetic auxin herbicides in corn. It’s important to fully understand the product label to avoid crop response. MFA’s Xpo­nd, a high surfactant load COC, is applied at half the normal use rate of a standard COC.

Methylated seed oils (MSOs) work similarly to COCs but can cause greater crop response. Few herbicide manufacturers suggest utilizing MSOs in corn. Impact is one example in which MSO can be safely used to control weeds with­out injuring corn. It is more com­mon to include an MSO in burn­down programs using Gramoxone or Sharpen before crop emergence.

Soy Plus and Soy Plus HD are examples of MSO surfactants. Soy Plus HD has a high surfactant MSO load and is applied at a lower rate than conventional MSOs. MFA also carriers Hawker, a blend of NIS, MSO and organosilicone surfac­tants, which increase coverage on the leaf surface by greatly reducing surface tension and drying time.

Another important group of adju­vants, spray modifiers, influence the solution’s delivery and placement. The focus is to reduce the amount of fine droplets, those less than 150 microns in size or the thickness of sewing thread. These fine droplets are susceptible to moving off-target or evaporating before reaching the plant. Drift-reducing adjuvants create larger droplets, approxi­mately 500 microns or the thick­ness of very coarse sand, which are less likely to move off-target under higher wind speeds and low humidity.

Herbicide rates should not be reduced below manufacturer rec­ommendations when using an ad­juvant. Always review labels when mixing multiple pesticides. Emul­sifiable concentrate formulations contain solvents and can potentially reduce crop safety when additional adjuvants are used. Tank-mix order also matters. And remember, adju­vants will not control herbicide-re­sistant weeds.

Get to know your adjuvants and make the best of every pesticide application this spring.

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