Crops

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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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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