Crops

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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Managing risk before emergence

Farming and risk have always gone hand in hand. The constant struggle with the unknowns associated with farming will never go away, but as we move into 2022 the stakes are higher now than they have ever been. Record input costs and supply chain disruptions have driven the estimated cost of production to new highs.

Locking in a known return on a percentage of your estimated production has always been the best option to minimize risk in farming. However, in a year when the average cost of produc­tion is as high as it is, the need to protect your investment is even more important.

From a historical perspective, the highest December corn futures will happen between March and June, while the highest November soybean futures will typically fall between May and August. Essentially, prices are highest when there are more variables affecting production, such as the number of acres planted or the weather during pollination. Once these variables have passed, the risk premiums associated with them begin to disperse and, at that point, we are completely at the mercy of supply and demand.

Therefore, it’s important to have discussions with your local MFA Crop Insurance agent to understand how risk can be further mitigated. These agents work hand in hand with MFA grain merchandisers to better understand the markets and help growers make informed decisions.

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Crop insurance: a vital input to consider in 2022

Trade restrictions, COVID, supply chain issues and labor costs are contributing to higher prices in our economy, and agricultur­al inputs are no exception. A common question among growers for the 2022 season is, “How can we save money without losing results?”

The strategies vary. Some growers are targeting corn acres on their more productive ground and cutting back total corn acres planted. Spreading out purchases might be another option. Using MFA soil sampling and variable-rate spreading might also be an excellent choice. Other growers are treating this as any other year, basing their decisions on the short supply of corn and soy­beans driving prices up.

In a time where the “knee-jerk” reaction is to cut costs on inputs, however, crop insurance cannot be the input that growers choose to cut.

To reflect, 2008 was a record year for most crop­ping inputs. The price of corn for June through December 2008 was $7.87 per bushel, and soy­beans from June through November were $15.74. At press time, December 2022 corn futures are $5.53, and November soybeans are $12.76. This is a far cry from 2008 prices. By the time crop insurance guarantees are set—based on month of February average for December 2022 corn futures and the November ’22 soybean futures—market analysts will not be able to see much movement.

The real question is, will prices cover the cost of production when the combines cross the finish line of 2022?

There are a couple of tools to use in managing risk when facing this type of economic environ­ment:

1. Crop insurance and the options it provides.

2. Forward contracting.

Many producers this year will not have guaran­tees that cover their cost of production. It is vital to consult with a crop insurance professional to help find cost-effective options to improve your levels of risk protection. Those options may include:

  • Using a mix of county-based programs with their Revenue Protection policies.
  • Exploring the opportunity to “purchase up” the price-per-bushel guarantee.
  • Staying status quo.

The latter is not a wise option and is more than likely the result of grower’s anxiety or stress related to crop insurance decision making. If you have a trusted crop insurance advisor, it does not have to be a stressful topic. It is important, now more than ever, to have these discussions, whether it’s how to utilize your policy to capture highs in the market or simply how your premium is being spent.

Here at MFA, we pride our­selves on keeping our agents educated on any changes in the crop insurance industry. For more information, visit with one of the many MFA crop insurance agents across our trade territory. Find your local representative at mfa-inc.com/Services/MFA-Crop-Insurance.

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Supplement with sulfur for plant growth, health

Higher yields, earlier planting and successful clean air policies have increased the need for sulfur fertilizer and put a much-deserved spotlight on this often-overlooked nutrient. New research is being conducted at the university level and by MFA to determine the best management practices for sulfur on your farm.

Sulfur is a vital contributor to nitrogen efficiency, protein produc­tion and chlorophyll formation. In fact, sulfur is ranked only behind nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) in importance to crop production. Plants low in sulfur are often pale and yellow, symptoms that may be confused with nitrogen deficiency. Sulfur in the sulfate form does share sever­al characteristics with the nitrate form of nitrogen. It is mobile in the soil and subject to leaching, especially in soils with lower cation exchange capacity. It is also difficult to determine sulfur need through soil testing because of spatial and temporal variability.

However, unlike nitrogen, sulfur is generally immobile within plants. We recognize “firing” on the lower leaves of a corn plant as a sign of either N or K deficiency. This is because these nutrients are mobile in the plant and can be moved from old growth to new growth. Sulfur deficiency shows up on the young­est growth first and must be supple­mented from outside the plant.

Clean air policies have done an excellent job removing sulfur from the atmosphere, resulting in much less “acid rain” than in the past. As a grade-schooler in the 1980s, I was regularly taught about acid rain and its negative impact on the environment as well as the damage it inflicted on man-made objects such as machinery, buildings and other structures. Acid rain is rarely discussed today. There is still some sulfur in rainfall due to pollution and the natural activity of volca­noes, but it is much less compared to previous years. This is obvious­ly a positive, but the free 15-20 pounds of sulfur that Midwest fields received in the past have been reduced to 5 pounds or less and must be replaced with fertilizer.

Sulfur fertility is delivered in three main forms: elemental sulfur (90%, dry), ammonium sulfate (21-0-0-24S, dry) and ammonium thiosulfate (12-0-0-26S, liquid). Ammonium sulfate and ammonium thiosulfate are readily available to crops. Elemental sulfur must be ox­idized or “broken down” before it is available, so for a quick response in front of or over a crop, ammonium sulfate or ammonium thiosulfate should be used. That is why these products are our primary sources for wheat top-dress.

Another source of sulfur utilized by growers is Croplex, which has an analysis of 12-40-0-10S-1Zn- 0.3B. The sulfur in Croplex is a combination of elemental and ammonium sulfate. This “best of both worlds” approach helps assure there is plenty of sulfur throughout the growing season.

Sulfur is often associated with wheat top-dress and for good reason. Wheat needs sulfur when it breaks dormancy and begins to green up. Much of our sulfur comes from the soil’s organic matter through the mineralization process, and the cold soils of late winter/ early spring are not conducive to this activity. However, wheat is not the only crop that uses and needs sulfur. In fact, it is not the crop that needs it most. Producing 80-bushel wheat takes a total of 18 pounds of sulfur, but 180-bushel corn will use 29. Soybeans will use 27 pounds of sulfur to make 60-bushel yields, while 5-ton alfalfa uses 25 pounds.

Recognition of the need for increased sulfur has prompted recent research into the nutrient. Purdue University in Indiana has several years of plot data that shows response to sulfur, not only in corn but also in soybeans. Sulfur applied near planting (from planting to V2-V3) to early-planted soybeans resulted in significant gains. More surprisingly, this occurred on soils with higher-testing (greater than 3.5%) organic matter. The cool, wet soils that early-planted soybeans encounter seem to be the catalyst for these gains.

Magazine articles discussing this research last year generated interest and questions in MFA’s trade terri­tory, so MFA added soybean sulfur studies to our field trials in 2021. We did not have early-planted soy­beans in our trials last spring so we were unable to do that research, but we will look at it in the future.

If you are planting soybeans early this year, I would encourage you to consider an at-planting or early postemergence application of sulfur to evaluate this practice in your own fields. I would also encourage you to make sulfur a part of your overall fertility program, giving special attention to crops that are planted earlier into cool soils and to fields with lower organic matter values.

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Crop protection plans can’t be an afterthought

The 2022 growing season is just around the corner, and herbicide planning is more important than ever this year. In the previous issue of Today’s Farmer, MFA Director of Agronomy Doug Spaunhorst touched on potential supply chain challenges with some common herbicide products. In particular, supply looks to be tight for widely used products such as glyphosate, glufosinate and 2,4-D. There will likely be situations where we need to carefully look at a field’s weed spectrum to identify the need for these products and find alternative herbicides.

While glyphosate and glufosinate are used to control susceptible weeds that are already emerged, in 2022 it will be critical to prevent weed emergence from occurring in the first place. In addition to using these types of herbicides in our first pass, it will be equally important to use residual chemistry in our second pass for continued weed prevention. If we have successfully prevented new weed emergence and have a clean field three weeks after the first pass, we can apply the next round of residual herbicides and eliminate the need for herbi­cides that only control emerged weeds.

To determine the correct herbi­cides that will be required, thorough and timely scouting is essential ahead of both the burndown pass and the in-crop application. Many products used for the first herbicide application ahead of corn already contain active ingredients that have excellent activity on broadleaf weeds, including those that are difficult to control.

However, this is not necessarily the case for grass weeds. On the bright side, many common grass weeds can be controlled with a low­er rate of glyphosate than needed for broadleaf weed control.

For instance, giant foxtail up to 20 inches tall can be controlled at a 75% rate of most glyphosate products when compared to rates needed to control many broadleaf weeds. While MFA will never rec­ommend reducing rates required by label, this is an example that would reduce glyphosate usage while still using a full labeled rate to control a target weed.

Newer soybean herbicide traits offer additional opportunities to re­duce the use of herbicides that are likely to be in tight supply. While older formulations of 2,4-D may be hard to come by, availability of Enlist products looks favorable. In addition, there is no waiting period between Enlist applications and planting of Enlist-tolerant soybeans as there is with older 2,4-D for­mulations. In soybeans with Xtend or XtendFlex traits, Xtendimax or Engenia herbicides also provide excellent broadleaf weed activity.

Regardless of herbicide-tolerance traits, there are other options for grass control in soybeans. Herbi­cides commonly used in soybeans to control glyphosate-tolerant vol­unteer corn also control most grass weeds. These products are known as FOPs and DIMs due to the active ingredient names and can be used as a glyphosate alternative strictly for grass control in soybeans. In addition, corn hybrids with the Enlist trait will be tolerant to the FOP family of herbicides. Products such as Assure II may be used for in-crop grass weed control in corn with this trait.

By the time we enter the next growing season, there will likely be several more challenges related to crop protection supplies. Growers should have a cropping plan that includes residual herbicides to provide protection from weeds that have a history of showing up in each field. Pair that with frequent and thorough scouting to identify emerged weed species.

By following these practices, we can develop recommendations to provide proper weed control and prevention while helping to avoid potential supply issues. Your MFA manager, key account managers and local agronomists are here to help develop these plans and deliver weed-control solutions for your farm.

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