Doing our due diligence with dicamba decisions

By now, you have likely heard that MFA Incorporated will have new internal policies for the sale and use of dicamba herbicides for the 2018 growing season. Our guidelines will be responsive to actual growing conditions based on field reports from our agronomists, crop scouts and other MFA personnel across our trade territory.

Once soybeans hit the R1 growth stage, MFA will no longer spray dicamba due to the inherent risk of off-target movement. We feel like it’s important to base our decisions on actual growth stages, and R1 is at the beginning of flowering. If we wait until too late in the season, we’re afraid that we will put too many soybeans in our territory at risk.

The Missouri Department of Agriculture has mandated that the cutoff date will be June 1 for 10 counties in the Bootheel and July 15 statewide, and MFA will adhere to those rules. But because MFA’s policies are based on plant maturity rather than calendar dates, our policy could be more restrictive than state guidelines. In other words, we may stop spraying well before those dates if conditions dictate.

To determine when to halt dicamba applications, MFA will launch an intensive scouting protocol this spring to track soybean growth and provide timely information to applicators about crop progress. We are establishing a network of “sentinel plots,” representing the average planting dates and maturity ranges of soybeans in different regions of MFA’s service territory. These plots will be scouted every Monday and reports sent to all MFA employees on Tuesday mornings with notes about maturity and potential cutoff dates for spraying dicamba. Applicators will be alerted when the majority of soybeans in their area have reached the reproductive stage, when dicamba injury can do the most harm to non-target plants.

As part of these guidelines, MFA Incorporated will only use the new dicamba formulations authorized for use with dicamba-tolerant crops, including Monsanto’s XtendiMax, BASF’s Engenia and DuPont’s FeXapan. We will not custom-apply or sell over the counter any old formulation of straight dicamba products such as Banvel, Clarity and Detonate. This does not include blended products such as Range Star, DiFlexx and Status.

Most growers are well aware that these actions are in response to widespread complaints that dicamba herbicides drifted and harmed non-tolerant crops during the 2017 growing season. Nationwide, 3.6 million acres of soybeans suffered harm associated with dicamba, and states launched 2,708 investigations into dicamba-related crop damage, according to data compiled by the University of Missouri. Missouri received about 310 complaints from growers related to dicamba, second only to the nearly 1,000 filed in Arkansas.

Arkansas has effectively banned dicamba’s use by setting April 15 as the cutoff for applications. We’re still waiting to hear if other neighboring states in MFA geography, such as Iowa and Kansas, set dates that fall outside our own guidelines. Otherwise, we will follow MFA’s policies in those areas.

In Missouri, the Department of Agriculture requires anyone spraying dicamba to have a certified private applicator license or certified commercial applicator license, the latter of which applies to MFA employees. Before purchase or use of the product, both private and commercial applicators must complete mandatory dicamba training provided by the University of Missouri Extension. We are working with MU’s Dr. Kevin Bradley to make sure MFA applicators receive this training.

We need dicamba technology to combat weed resistance, but we have to be good stewards. Protecting the technology for the future is important, not only from an economic standpoint but also an environmental standpoint. This technology is up for renewal by the EPA in December 2018, and if we have another outcome like we did last year, we may not have this tool anymore.

We hope MFA’s proactive move will set a trend so that other companies, applicators and farmers will follow our lead to help protect this technology.

We will be posting the latest information on throughout the growing season.

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Do you know what’s in your crop insurance policy?

How do you determine what type of crop insurance best fits your operation? This might be the single most important farming decision you make in the coming years.

As we approach a new Farm Bill, many discussions are focused on where the crop insurance program is headed. Even the slightest changes can affect the inner workings of your coverage. This is even more of a reason to stay educated about your crop insurance.

The crop insurance portion of the 2018 Farm Bill benefits all Americans. Crop insurance is an important part of maintaining the most affordable and safest food supply, not only in U.S., but also in the world.

MFA Incorporated and its affiliates touch as many or more farmers in our territory than any organization in the state. This aligns us to help more of those farmers than anyone. We are providing educational opportunities for producers while helping provide current and long-term risk management strategies. Knowing more about the different types, levels and options of crop insurance helps our farmers make solid decisions on their marketing as well as risk management.

Many of the farmers we speak to only know that they have some type of crop insurance. The details often elude them. At MFA, we intend to put the knowledge back in the farmer’s hands. Understanding how a crop and its fields are broken down, either by section or by county, can make all the difference between financial disaster or profitability in a single year.

Whether it is to sample soil, advise on seed selection or make fertilizer recommendations, MFA personnel visit farms on a regular basis. We know the farmer’s operation very well. We can help find what determines profitability, breaking even or farming at a loss.

One of the most important aspects of crop insurance is revenue protection. This may be the most misunderstood coverage. Without it, drastic changes in commodity prices could devastate a farmer’s profit margins during the growing season. Locking in a profit, even before planting, is vital. This can be done with proper crop insurance strategy. Sometimes one of the most difficult things is to convince a farmer to sell crops before they are harvested, but capturing the highs in the markets during the growing season can be the difference between being profitable and operating at a loss.

Apples to apples, crop insurance is the same coverage and cost no matter what company or agent you are using. The biggest difference is the type of service they provide. Do you have to stop what you are doing to drive to a crop insurance office, or does that agent come to you? Do you get a personal review each year of your coverage and farming operation? Do the company adjusters make it easy to meet with you? These are all areas that you should consider. Expect the service that you are paying for.

If you haven’t been provided the opportunity to have a thorough examination of your operation and how crop insurance fits your needs, 2018 is an important time to do this. MFA has 38 licensed crop insurance agents. A licensed agent is available in all of our trade territories.

Important crop insurance dates

March 15 (or Feb. 28 in some of the southern areas) Spring crops final sign-up date. This is also the date to be able to make changes to your coverage and transfer your policy.

April 29
Production report deadline for 2017 spring planted production. We advise this be done prior to the sales closing date to ensure an accurate quote for your 2018 crop insurance.

July 15
Acreage reporting date. This is to report where and how many acres of spring crops were planted. We understand that making decisions on what to plant and where to plant it can be difficult. Make sure you have those conversations with your crop insurance agent. You don’t want to find out after the fact that making changes to your planting leaves you uninsured or under insured on those fields.

There are also numerous dates that differ from county to county for earliest, final and late planting dates. Be sure to check with your agent on these guidelines.

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Get the lowdown on herbicide breakdown

Now that you are likely done with harvesting, take a moment to reflect on your fields from this past growing season. When you were spending countless hours in the combine, did you notice areas that had better weed control than other parts of the field? Did you have fields with better weed control than others, yet you had the same weed control program across all of them? This is a common theme. While I would like to tell you that every field will respond the same or that each program will work every time, that’s just not the case.  

Herbicides break down in many ways. Microbes, water and sunlight are the main environmental factors that influence herbicide breakdown. Each herbicide family—and sometimes products within the family—respond differently to each process.  

Microbial degradation is the dominant factor that breaks down herbicides. Certain bacteria, fungi and algae use herbicides as a food source. Microbes are herbicide-specific, and populations are dependent on the rate of the herbicide application. Repeated use of the same herbicide year after year can cause more rapid degradation of the specific herbicide, resulting in shorter efficacy windows from that herbicide.  

Several factors can influence this process, such as soil composition, soil pH and climatic conditions. Soil organic matter influences microbial activity and provides habitat for the microbes to exist. When we look at pH, each microbe favors a certain level, but we see very little microbial activity in the extremes.

We all remember the drought of 2012 and concerns about herbicide carryover into the 2013 growing season. Length of herbicide activity is very dependent on soil temperature, soil moisture and rainfall, just to name a few influential conditions. You’re likely aware that microbes are not very active when soil temps drop below 50 degrees. That’s why a lot of fall-applied herbicides provide weed control well into spring. Very little herbicide breakdown occurs in the fall and winter from microbial degradation.

Water also has a negative effect on herbicide activity. Areas where water pools on the field and low spots are typically the first areas to break down herbicides when we have moisture or excess moisture. This chemical breakdown is a process called hydrolysis.  

Finally, sunlight is a factor in breaking down herbicides, but this photosynthetic decomposition is not as prevalent as it was 20 to 30 years ago. You probably remember having yellow-stained boots, pants, shirts and hands. The Treflan and Prowls of the world would break down relatively fast by light. That’s why I remember, as a kid, following the sprayer with the field cultivator to incorporate Treflan into the soil.   

These factors emphasize why we have to continue overlapping residuals. I can’t predict how long these residuals will provide weed control because it varies from year to year and field to field. This past year, depending on rain, the two-pass weed control program was the cleanest.  

I hope you will take time to evaluate this past year’s successes and failures to make weed-control plans for the upcoming year. These insights will provide us with some of the knowledge we need to make proper recommendations. If you have questions or want to develop a weed-control program, contact your nearest MFA or AGChoice location.

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What did your harvest remove from the soil?

 This has been another year with variable yields across our trade territory. You are probably hearing about higher-than-expected yields in corn and soybeans and even record yields in some areas. Weather is one factor in that variability, with wide fluctuations from one corner to the other. Areas along I-70 to the west saw significant rain events that caused some flooding, and areas to the northwest and northeast had prolonged periods without precipitation.  

With these variable yields come variable nutrient removals, whether it’s the bottom part of your field or the old clay knob that sits up high. So why do most producers apply the same amount of P and K to those areas? Most of the time the answer is, “Because it’s easy.”  

There are a couple ways we can address these issues through our Nutri-Track program. One is by using grid soil sampling, which captures the nutrient levels in specific parts of your field. At MFA, we use a 2.5-acre grid and pull soil samples in each subsection of the field. This allows us to apply variable-rate fertilizer according to varying needs of the soil. Just picture your field broken down in 2.5-acre sections and treating them differently to maximize your fertilizer dollar.

Another way that Nutri-Track can help you manage variability is by using your yield monitor. It’s more than just a screen showing current yields as you drive through the field. We can take the information from your yield monitor and apply variable-rate P and K based on your actual nutrient removal. When we couple this with our grid-sampling service, you can get on a program to stabilize P and K levels in your fields.  

Over the past few years in our trade area, producers have been removing more nutrients from their fields than they have been replacing. You might not see a yield drag immediately, but at some point you will. MFA’s Nutri-Track program is focused on putting your fertilizer where it is needed and not over-applying where it is not. I can’t promise that Nutri-Track will decrease your fertilizer cost, but I can say that the program helps put those nutrients in the right areas.  

When we look at nutrient removal, we know that 1 bushel of corn removes 0.45 pound of P and 0.25 pound of K, while 1 bushel of soybeans removes 0.9 pound of P and 1.5 pounds of K. Look at your farm’s yields, and do the math. You can see what type of P and K applications are needed to replace the nutrients you just removed. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact your local store for more details.

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Going Viral

 When it comes to disease control in wheat, the focus is often on fungus. Fusarium head scab, leaf rust, stripe rust and even powdery mildew receive a lot of attention from growers and crop advisors as they inspect fields through the growing season. They select appropriate fungicides and time applications to optimize disease control.

However, viral diseases in wheat are just as important—and potentially just as harmful—but more commonly overlooked. This tendency stems in part from the fact that once viral infections are discovered in wheat nothing can be done to treat them. True, but there is plenty that can be done to prevent them.

Prevention methods, of course, depend on the particular virus you are facing. For example, soil-borne mosaic and spindle streak mosaic viruses can be averted, or at least limited, by selecting resistant varieties and avoiding planting wheat into poorly drained soils. The impact of wheat streak mosaic virus can be reduced by planting late or controlling nearby volunteer wheat and other grassy weeds. This limits exposure to wheat curl mites that transmit the disease.

Among all diseases, not just viruses, barley yellow dwarf is one of the most prevalent and damaging problems in wheat grown in MFA territory. Fortunately, with proper management barley yellow dwarf virus can be avoided.

Aphid species such as corn leaf aphid, greenbugs, English grain aphid and, most commonly, the bird oat cherry aphid can all transmit the barley yellow dwarf virus. Symptoms of this disease include stunted plants and yellow or red leaf tips. Depending on the amount of infection and vector populations, infected areas are generally found in patches that are 1-foot to 5-foot in diameter, with the worst symptoms near the center of the affected area. As the wheat matures, infected heads tend to be darker than their healthy counterparts. Grain from infected heads is often shriveled. Yield losses can be as high as 35 percent.

This past spring, visual signs of barley yellow dwarf virus were seen quite frequently throughout Missouri, more commonly in northern areas. While last year once again proved that all areas of the state are vulnerable, typically the potential for infection is worse in the south. Later freeze dates and milder winters allow for greater aphid activity in the fall. Though the disease can infect wheat plants at any point of their life cycle, fall and winter aphids cause infections that provide much more time for the disease to develop than a spring infection.

So why were infected fields more prevalent in the north this past year? There was no shortage of infected fields in any part of the state, and aphids were prevalent far into a mild winter. The difference appears to be seed treatments. Insecticide seed treatments were much more commonly used in the southern areas, where growers are more accustomed to growing wheat and managing for barley yellow dwarf control.

 Though there are some varieties with limited resistance and delayed planting can be helpful, effective control of aphid vectors is—by far—the most reliable way to prevent barley yellow dwarf virus. Scouting and foliar-applied insecticides can help control aphids, but even then some level of infection has likely occurred. Preferably, systemic insecticide seed treatments should be used to keep aphid populations from developing in the fall. Wheat fields with insecticide-treated seed showed an obvious advantage to fields planted with untreated seed.

It is also important to note that not all seed treatments are equal. The majority of available seed treatment packages offered for wheat do not contain an insecticide. Those that do often contain an insecticide rate that’s too low to be effective against aphids. However, products like MFA’s Crop Advantage Cereals Aphid blend ensure effective control with high use rates of the systemic insecticide, imidicloparid. Products that do not have these rates need additional imidicloparid if control of aphids and, in turn, barley yellow dwarf virus is desired.

While all potential challenges in the next growing season are easier to overcome with proactive planning, when it comes to barley yellow dwarf virus control, that foresight is not just beneficial but crucial. The old saying that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is surely an understatement in this case. If that ounce ensures the full rate of a seed treatment, then its worth is measured in bushels rather than pounds.

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