Nutrient management benefits you, the environment

 If you are familiar at all with agronomy and read the words “Nutrient Management Plan,” you probably picture a huge binder full of government documents—a bunch of boring tables and graphs that don’t mean anything to 99% of people who try to read it. With precision technology and the ability to process data in ways that show what’s happening on the farm, those days are over. 

There are many benefits to sitting down and making a plan, whether it’s fertility or other aspects of crop production. Planning allows you to account for all the steps necessary to take your production in a positive direction. The following are environmental risks that can be mitigated and averted by planning and following a nutrient management plan for both crop and pasture production. 

Managing N, P, K, micronutrients and pH. In agronomics, high yields depend on matching fertility inputs to crop removals and ensuring the proper amount of nutrients are banked in the soil. It turns out that areas of high productivity also pose a much lower risk environmentally than areas of poor fertility. The reason is simple—if high yields are being attained, then the plants are healthy and quickly taking up any fertilizer placed there. In areas that return low yields due to a lack of soil nutrients or other extraneous factors, plants aren’t as ready to uptake applied nutrients. This leaves those nutrients vulnerable to loss via leaching or binding to soil particles and being washed away. Applied nutrients must also be available to the plant, which is why balancing soil pH is critical to the success of any plan. If nutrients are in adequate supply, but the soil is too acidic to allow uptake, they are vulnerable to loss. Lack of plant growth also impacts residue on the soil surface. The less residue, the more erosion. Rain events can move more soil in areas of low fertility, resulting in even more nutrient losses. The best thing we can do is keep our most productive areas productive and build fertility in sub-par areas.

Correcting areas of high soil-test phosphorus. Missouri has a robust livestock industry, and where there is—or was—livestock, there is manure. Repeated applications of manure on feedlots, pastures and areas of high animal concentration can lead to high soil-test phosphorus values. Because phosphorus binds to soil particles, excess P levels are prone to loss from runoff. When areas of high P are identified, it’s important to mitigate erosion and initiate changes in a fertility plan to lower risk of nutrient loading in our waterways. Again, maintaining the top layer of soil on the field is critical to minimizing nutrient loss.

Having a plan for nitrogen. Many folks talk about nitrogen planning, making split applications, using inhibitors and similar practices but fail to follow through in implementation. All of these things used in conjunction really do pay big dividends in how much total N gets applied to the field, how much of that N is plant-available at the right time, and, the most environmentally important, how much is left at the end of the season. Since nitrogen is generally paid for, there’s certainly benefit to making sure we hit the right target and don’t leave a significant amount in the field. This can be done by making sure we account for inputs from all fertilizer products, know our soil and consider any losses. A written plan can keep you on track for knowing how to steward N properly.

Combining all these aspects of nutrient management planning can make your farm not just more environmentally friendly but also significantly more efficient. Grid sampling and planning through the Nutri-Track program is a great avenue. Recently, around 25 MFA personnel have become certified as technical service providers, which enables them to write Nutrient Management Plans for USDA-NRCS financial assistance. For a plan to get financial assistance, an EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentive Program) application must be completed with your local NRCS office during the fall signup. Our MFA technical service providers are experts in managing your fertilizer inputs to help meet yield goals and to put together production plans covering the entire soil-test cycle. 

If you are interested ways to maximize your fertilizer investment and make your farm less environmentally sensitive through nutrient management, contact me or any member of MFA’s Precision Agronomy team.

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Funds may be available to restore flooded farmland

Producers who have suffered severe losses as a result of recent flooding may be eligible for assistance under the Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) admin­istered by the Farm Service Agency (FSA) in these Missouri counties: Boone, Callaway, Carroll, Chariton, Clark, Clay, Cooper, Daviess, Gentry, Grundy, Howard, Jackson, Lafay­ette, Lewis, Lincoln, Linn, Livingston, Marion, Mercer, Moni­teau, Pike, Ray, Saline, Sullivan, St. Charles and St. Louis.

A producer qualifying for ECP assistance may receive cost-share levels up to 75 percent of the eligible cost of restoration measures. The 2018 Farm Bill authorizes socially disadvantaged and beginning farmers and ranchers to earn up to 90 percent cost share of the total allowable costs.

The following types of measures may be eligible:

  • • Removing debris from farmland
  • • Grading, shaping or releveling severely damaged farmland
  • • Restoring permanent fences
  • • Restoring conservation structures and other similar in­stallations

Producers should contact their local FSA county office to request assistance until Aug. 30, 2019. For more informa­tion, visit

In July, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Ser­vice (NRCS) announced the availability of $217.5 million dedicated to funding conservation easements on certain lands damaged by flooding and other natural disasters. Funds are made available through the floodplain easement component of the Emergency Watershed Protection Pro­gram. Missouri, Arkansas and Iowa are among the 11 states currently identified for funding.

In this voluntary program, eligible applicants agree to sell a permanent conservation easement to the United States through NRCS. Compensation is based on the value of the easement as determined by an appraisal or market analysis. These easements may occur on public or private agricultur­al land or residential properties damaged by flooding and natural disasters. NRCS will work to restore the easement to its natural floodplain condition.

Individuals and communities in any state are encouraged to contact their local NRCS field offices for more informa­tion on these floodplain easement opportunities or visit

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Turbocharge yields with nitrogen-fungicide synergy

Turbocharged engines are pop­ular in many vehicles today because of the improved performance they provide. The turbocharger boosts horsepower, or output, while in­creasing fuel efficiency. It works by capturing unused energy from the engine exhaust to power a turbine. This, in turn, powers a compressor, which forces air into the intake of the vehicle, allowing a greater percentage of fuel to burn with each stroke of the engine. The result is greater output with less fuel by introducing a little more air.

The turbocharger is a really good example of synergy, where the out­put seems to outpace the cost of the inputs. Synergies in crop inputs are often misunderstood, oversold or dismissed, but some combinations do work and pay big dividends. One such example of successful synergy is the use of foliar slow-release nitrogen (SRN) in conjunc­tion with foliar-applied fungicides.

Slow-release nitrogen products are often touted as a more efficient method of N delivery in which low-use rates can replace multiple pounds of soil-applied N to reach a similar yield. In my opinion, this is the worst expectation to have from an SRN. It can’t replace sound base nitrogen fertility—just like a turbo would be useless if there were no oxygen to pump into the system.

Where slow-release nitrogen can really shine is when used with stro­bilurin fungicides. Beyond disease control, fungicide benefits include stay-green, stress tolerance and standability. What we don’t often discuss is where those advantages come from. With stress tolerance, increased photosynthesis and grain fill, the biggest impact comes from increased efficiency in nitrogen me­tabolism. The trick is having enough available N to “boost” that process.

Like the turbocharger increases the amount of oxygen for an engine to more efficiently burn fuel, SRNs provide enough nitrogen to allow fungicides to reduce stress and promote plant growth, resulting in more gain at higher N efficiency.

We’ve seen positive results of an SRN-fungicide combination in trials like the one conducted by Dr. Kelly Nelson with the University of Missouri’s Greenley Research Sta­tion. He added 1 gallon of SRN to a fungicide application of Headline AMP at tassel to corn. While Head­line alone added 14.5 bushels per acre, adding SRN led to an increase of more than 25 bushels per acre. Thanks to the synergy created by the combined application, the amount of N is far less than required to add 9 bushels in traditional thinking.

Slow-release nitrogen products have been available for quite some time, and we have recommend­ed them as a way to increase the efficiency of a fungicide application. Recently, MFA took it a step further by introducing a new proprietary product, Gold Advantage Trend-B, which is an SRN with boron added. Boron is an essential nutrient need­ed during the crop’s reproductive stages for grain development.

The issue with boron, unlike many plant nutrients, is that it is very mobile in the soil but not in the plant. This means that even if you do fertilize with boron up front, what is not taken up early is likely lost, and what is taken up early does not move in the plant to areas it is most needed. A plant with a fungicide plus SRN and deficient boron is like a turbo’s boost being held back by an engine with poor timing. Trend-B not only adds the small amount of available N nec­essary to help a fungicide “turbo­charge” plant performance, but it also helps maintain optimal boron nutrition, which is often needed late in the season.

Proper timing is critical to get the most out of these applications. Talk with your Crop-Trak consultant or other experts at your MFA loca­tion today about the opportunity to improve your crop’s health and increase yields by combining fungi­cides with SRN foliar nutrition.

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Conservation in the 2018 Farm Bill

The long-awaited 2018 Farm Bill was finally passed late last year and contains language dictating federal farm policy for at least the next five years. Though not a major funding part of the bill, the conservation sections play a significant role in resource conservation and wildlife habitat placement on agriculture lands. These programs fund many practices, from short-term conserva­tion such as annual cover cropping for soil health to perpetual wetland easements that protect fish and wild­life habitat permanently.

Each of the four main programs persist in the new legislation though funding levels have shifted slightly.

Conservation Reserve Program

CRP, acreage caps and soil rental rates typically steal the show in any conservation-related discussion over the farm bill, and 2018 was no exception. Moving forward, there will be a few changes to CRP. The acreage cap will grow from a current 24 million acres to 27 million by 2023, with at least 30% of those acres being enrolled in one of the continuous CRP practices. These typically target high-value habitat or priority concerns such as buffer strips, waterways, etc. Rental rates and signup incentive payments have also been decreased for any new CRP contracts. Under a general signup, the soil rental rate will now be no more than 85% of the county average, with continuous signups being no more than 90%.

It’s yet to be determined if these changes will impact recent increased demand for CRP. Language regard­ing timing for signups for CRP has been fairly vague from USDA. It has been hinted that continuous signups may start first, followed by a general signup this winter. One other im­portant note is that a general signup is mandated to be held at least yearly, and with the number of acres com­ing out increasing, there will likely be acres available in the near future.

Conservation Stewardship Program

Originally rumored to be terminat­ed in the new farm bill, CSP will persist. However, funding will be cut for the program slowly over time. Contract extensions will be granted, and there may be opportunities for additional signups moving forward. The first signup for CSP under the 2018 legislation appeared in mid- April with a May 10, 2019, dead­line. This signup timing has been consistent over the past few years, and as long as funding will allow, signups will likely continue to roll out at this timeframe. The main ad­justment that may affect the program is funding levels will now be based on an annual dollar allocation versus annual acreage caps.

Environmental Quality Incentives Program

Where CSP got a trim in the new farm bill, EQIP picked up some slack with an increase of more than $1 billion over the term of the legislation. Most of the program’s structure will remain the same as the 2014 version, with some flexibility on practice payments. The funding pool that did increase was wildlife provisions, expanding from a total of 5% to 10%. If you were considering an EQIP application to implement wildlife habitat in your operation, now could be great time to apply.

Keep in mind there are multiple benefits to most practices. For exam­ple, doing some brush management on field edges is certainly beneficial to wildlife but can also increase yields due to increased water, sun­light and nutrient availability.

Agricultural Conservation Easement Program

The main conservation title in ACEP is Wetland Reserve Easements (WRE), formerly known as WRP easements. Funding for easements as a whole increased to $450 million a year. For MFA trade territory, this should mean new easements available to those interested in WRE through the term of the 2018 bill.

Whatever conservation goals you have moving forward, there’s a good amount of support in this farm bill. The theme under conservation seems to be water quality. Some em­bedded titles within CRP and others will highlight new and existing programs geared toward managing runoff from agricultural lands.

If you are interested in any of these programs, keep in touch with your local USDA Service Center as the 2018 Farm Bill gets implement­ed. Remember that MFA is ready to assist you with the goods and ser­vices needed to place conservation on the landscape.

Adam Jones joined MFA as natu­ral resource conservation specialist in January 2019 after more than 10 years with the Missouri Department of Conservation, most recently as a wildlife management biologist. Adam grew up on a small livestock and row-crop farm in Lewis County, Mo., before earning a degree in fisheries and wildlife at the University of Missouri. A lifelong outdoorsman, he now enjoys hunting and camping with his wife, Heather, and their three children.

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Farming the competitive edge


When Wyatt Harris was 17 years old, he sold the new truck he’d purchased with his savings the year before to rent 350 acres of land from a retiring neighbor.

“That got me into a bit of trouble with my parents,” Harris admitted. “I grew up around farming. At 15, I could run a 24- row planter, but my uncle farms the homestead. If I wanted to farm, I knew I was going to have to do it myself.”

Now 30, he grows roughly 4,000 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat near Hepler, Kan., in addition to custom farming. Since the beginning, Harris saw the value in adopting progressive technol­ogies and management practices, though he may not have had the top-of-the-line equipment. At 21, he began soil sampling and tracking organic matter. Shortly thereafter, he started gath­ering yield data.

When he rents a new parcel of land, Harris said the ground is usually pretty rough. Some requires dirt work, brush removal and burndown applications. Land is usually cheaper in this shape, the young farmer said, and he doesn’t have to worry about people renting it out from under him.

“I wouldn’t be as far along as I am, though, if we weren’t look­ing at how to maximize the fertility of those fields,” Harris said.

He’s not afraid of the work. Mainly a no-till farmer, some of his reclaimed fields now average 170 bushels of corn per acre even in dry years.

“It all started with some farms that we opened up,” Harris said. “Parts were prairie meadow, and we removed fence rows. We’ve been yield mapping for several years. Seeing the yield difference in the ground with high organic matter that hasn’t eroded away after 100 years of being farmed is just night and day. Once you’ve farmed it to clay, you’ve farmed it to clay. Most guys don’t see that without yield mapping. We can grow the type of crops they do in Iowa and central Illinois on that native sod if it’s managed right.”

With the yield data Harris collected, he was able to develop yield-management zones for variable-rate phosphorus and po­tassium applications. In 2015, when MFA began running trials with the Adapt-N model, a software program that allows pro­ducers to create variable-rate nitrogen recommendations, Harris was the perfect candidate. Previously, he spread a flat rate of nitrogen. Now all of his corn acres get variable-rate applications based on yield goals, and N applications are split in season.

Harris has a high-clearance spreader truck that allows him to apply his own fertilizer and top-dress his fields.

“We’d been applying variable-rate P and K,” he said. “In corn, we also made new yield-management zones, trying to push the good spots a little harder and lighten up on the bad spots. I de­cided it was somewhat pointless to do that without being able to variable-rate our nitrogen, too.”

MFA Precision Sales Manager Eric Preston said Adapt-N provides a way to be as efficient as possible with both seed and fertilizer inputs in the poorer areas of the field and boost yield potential in the better sections.

“Our process has evolved over time,” Preston said. “In Wyatt’s fields, not only are we putting more nitrogen out there in those good areas, we’re also putting more plants out there to maxi­mize those better-yielding zones.”

To develop these yield zones, Preston prefers having at least two years’ worth of normalized yield data. With that information in hand, he can help producers create goals for the next year.

“We have 250-bushel and 90-bushel yield zones in the same field,” Harris said. “Adapt-N has changed everything because we’re actually managing our nitrogen. We’re pushing yield zones 100 bushels better than county average in some places. We wouldn’t still be doing it if it wasn’t working.”

For a long time, many growers thought of planting popula­tions and fertility applications separately, Preston said.

“You had guys who were variable-rate planting who weren’t using variable-rate nitrogen applications,” he added. “They were planting more but weren’t putting anything else out there for those plants to uptake, so they weren’t seeing a big increase. On the flip side, you had guys who were applying variable-rate nitrogen who weren’t putting any more seeds out there to take advantage of that nitrogen. By doing them together, it maximiz­es the return on both.”

It’s a system and a process, Harris said.

“You can’t have one without the other, and we plan a lot,” he said. “It definitely adds science to what we’re doing with late-sea­son nitrogen. It isn’t perfect, but it’s a lot better than the old way. It’s a very good educated guess now, versus just a guess.”

On their farm a little over 50 miles north near Parker, Kan., the Dunlop family also participated in the same Adapt-N trial four years ago. With 700 acres of corn enrolled in the trial, they also saw the efficiency benefits.

“In the past, when you put on anhydrous, you shot for 150 bushels an acre,” Chuck Dunlop said. “You wanted to apply enough nitrogen for that, and maybe you didn’t actually raise that much. There was probably a lot of waste there.”

When spring rains come, farmers in this area joke that it comes 10 inches at a time. Both flooding and drought can occur in the same season, and denitrification is definitely a potential issue.

“That’s why we side-dress,” Preston said. “Once that corn is planted, we’ll have about 10 days in May when it’s just warm and wet. That’s when we have the potential to lose whatever nitrogen is out there. After those 10 days, that’s when we apply our nitro­gen—after the corn dries up and is ready to take off. The most expensive nitrogen we put on is the nitrogen we lose.”

Like Harris, the Dunlops continued to use Adapt-N on all their acreage after the initial trial. The variable-rate nitrogen program brought some consistency across their farms.

“In the past, consistently our best yields were always on the river bottom ground,” Dunlop said. “Now, it’s getting more evened out. More of our upland is yielding a lot better. One of our routinely worst farms had the highest bean yield this year. Some of that was weather, but I think the fertility of those fields also plays a big part. We’re getting more consistent farm-wide.”

Also like Harris, the Dunlop family develops long-term goals for their operation and then takes incremental steps toward them. They’ve been gathering yield data since the ’90s and use it to factor removal rates into their fertility recommendations. The data helps them determine planting populations in addi­tion to creating yield zones and splitting nitrogen applications.

“These guys are probably some of the most progressive farm­ers when it comes to nitrogen application,” Preston said. “A lot of guys will do a split application, but they still apply most of their nitrogen up front. Here, they put a little bit on up front and a lot when they side-dress, which is the way it should be done.”

Their gradual, strategic approach is what helped the Dun­lops be so successful with this program, Preston added. They started by grid sampling and correcting the fields’ pH levels. Then, they followed variable-rate rec­ommendations for P and K. Now, they’ve moved into nitrogen and matching the seeding rates accordingly.

“I think that’s important for anybody,” Dunlop said. “In the past, any time we tried to jump in and make a major change across the entire operation, it didn’t work too well. You need the experience first.”

By working with MFA crop con­sultants and precision managers, some trial and error is mitigated.

“Most farmers only get about 30 to 40 plantings and harvests to figure out what works for their op­erations before they retire,” Preston said. “We see at least that many every year, in addition to countless pests, diseases and other factors that can impact the growing season. That knowledge of what we’ve seen work and what didn’t is part of the value MFA provides to our growers.”

The next steps for Dunlop Farms may be moving into no-till corn and retrofitting their planters with hydraulic downforce to ensure proper planting depth. Harris said he sees multi-variety planting in the cards on his farm.

When asked why using such technology on the farm is im­portant, Harris said the bottom line is the bottom line.

“I see it as the way of the future,” he continued. “If we’re going to stay out here and do what we’re doing, we’re going to have to adopt those practices. It’s just as well to do so early and get it figured out. I think it gives us a competitive edge and makes us more efficient, better farmers and better stewards.”

For more information on Adapt-N, contact your local MFA or AGChoice to connect with your nearest precision specialist.

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