MFA Agronomy trials deliver data for better crop decisions

MUCH LIKE IN 2020, there were plenty of challenges in 2021. Fortunately, one challenge we didn’t face was being able to hold our annual MFA Agronomy Training Camp in person. In mid-August, we showcased MFA’s trial work and presented agronomic topics to employees during our annual field day at our testing site in Boonville, Mo. While attendance was down—approximately 300 employees compared to our normal 450-plus—the turnout was great considering complete COVID shutdowns for the past year and a half.

During the field day, employees were able to walk around our testing site, hear talks from agronomists and product managers, and see demonstrations on corn and soybean varieties, fungicides, seed treatments, nitrogen stabilizers, nutrient use efficiency products and much more. The Boonville site is 20 acres of corn-soybean rotation. The corn was planted May 3 at a population of 32,500 seeds per acre. Except for the hybrid trials, all other plots were plant­ed with MorCorn 4457. This has been our standard corn hybrid for trials the past three years, which allows us to compare repetitive studies more effectively year over year because we don’t have to count for varietal difference in the results.

The corn was fertilized with SuperU at planting with 300 pounds of actual N per acre. Since this is a testing site, we push nitrogen fertilization to eliminate that as a yield-limiting factor. However, we did have some nitrogen-based studies, which were not applied with any N except for what was needed in each treatment and plot.

The soybeans were planted June 4 at a population of 140,000 seeds per acre. As with corn, we try to keep the same variety planted over multiple years. This year was the first time in a while that we changed varieties, planting MorSoy 4020 XF.

We also have a second testing station, east of Columbia, where we replicate trials and have space for additional research. This site is 35 acres of corn-soybean rotation. Approximately six of those acres have been in corn-on-corn for the past three years to obtain data from that scenario. The corn was planted May 14 at a population of 32,500 seeds per acre. Like Boon­ville, all of the corn except for the hybrid trials was MorCorn 4457. Unfortunately, after stand evaluations and determination of plot loss, we had to replant the site on June 5.

The corn was fertilized with 180 pounds of actual N per acre with SuperU. All of the ni­trogen at this site was applied to the corn at V5-V6 after the stand was established. Again, we had several nitrogen-based studies, so those were fertilized based on the trial treatments.

The soybeans, except for variety trials, were mostly planted in MorSoy 4020 XF on the same day as the Boonville site, June 4, at a population of 140,000 seeds per acre. 


Every year, MFA conducts testing of our own MorCorn and MorSoy seed lineup. We have a unique testing program that allows us to evaluate products we potentially want to move forward as well as verifying that we are comfortable with our current lineup. A huge advantage is that we are testing these varieties in our own territory and environments, instead of just relying on data that we receive from the “I” states.

In total we have 14 corn and 14 soybean sites spread across our trade territory, in different soil types and conditions to help solidify confidence in our products. The variety trial data presented here is just from our large agronomy training sites in Boonville and Columbia. This year especially, we are truly able to see from the results just how different these sites are in soil type and yield environment even though they are only 30 miles apart.

In this year’s corn trials, we tested a total of 58 hybrids. Along with nine commercial hybrids and 25 experimental hybrids in the MorCorn lineup, we also include products from our partner brands: Dekalb, NK and Brevant. We tested eight hybrids each for these brands, some of which are first-look products that al­low us to get early evaluation of hybrid performance before they fully come to market. For that reason, we won’t present any of the partner brand data here.

As seen in figures 1A, 1B and 1C, we tested hybrids ranging from 102- to 119-day relative maturity. As mentioned earlier, the corn at our Columbia site was planted late and didn’t get a good jump with early nitrogen. Shortly after our corn started taking off, we were hit with a dry spell for about three weeks, and our corn yields suffered. At this site, yields ranged from our top end of 179.9 bushels per acre with MC 4255 to 139 bushels per acre on the lower end with an experimental hybrid XP1122.

At Boonville, the dry spell didn’t affect us nearly as much since the plots are in the river bottoms and the water table is much shallower. We still had high-yielding corn, even though it wasn’t as high as in years past. At this site, yields ranged from 267.3 bushels per acre with our top hybrid, experimen­tal XP0143, to 208.8 bushels per acre on the lower end with another experimental, XP1153.

Figure 1D compares average yield for some of our commer­cial hybrids that have been tested over the years at 12 other locations in our trade territory.

In our 2021 soybean trials, we tested a total of 85 variet­ies—31 were MorSoy commercial checks, and 31 were ex­perimental varieties. As with corn, we also tested lines from our partner brands including eight varieties from Asgrow and Brevant and seven varieties from NK. As with corn, we will not be presenting any results from the partner brands to hold true to our data agreements since there are first-look products in the lineup.

We also tested three trait packages in these lines, including Enlist Ready (E3), Roundup Ready Xtend (RR2X) and Xtend­Flex (XF). Because RR2X varieties were in the trials, we had to maintain a conventional herbicide program for weed control since they are not glufosinate tolerant. Figures 2A, 2B, 2C and 2D compare the soybean varieties we tested ranging from 3.5 to 4.9 maturity. The data portrays the same story as our corn trials with big differences in yield potential from our two testing sites.

Because the Boonville testing site is such a high-yielding area, we delay our soybean planting until June to limit early plant growth. This helps prevent lodging so that we can cleanly harvest each individual plot with no contamination. The top variety was MS 3859E with a yield of 94.8 bushels per acre, and the lower end was an experimental variety, XP1473E, at 65.1 bushels per acre. At the Columbia site, the top-yielding variety was MS 4426 RXT at 61.6 bushels per acre, and the low-yield­ing variety was MS 3741 XF at 44.3 bushels per acre.

Figure 2E details average yield comparison for some of our commercial hybrids that have been tested over the past two years at our other 12 locations.

In all our trials, we do a lot of research on varieties and quite a few trials on fungicides, some of which we will discuss later. In the past three years, we have combined these two studies into one. We all know that every field is different and that every corn or soybean variety is different and has a right fit for certain types of soil and management strategies. For years we have talk­ed about the benefits of fungicides being applied to your crop— disease control, overall plant health and yield boost. It is easy for us to say that you should just apply fungicide to your entire crop to get these added benefits. The problem is that there are many factors that come in to play when planning a fungicide application. While I believe that using fungicides at the proper timing is a best management practice, I know that generally it is the last input a crop gets before the combines roll. Often, producers are trying to decide at this point if the cost outweighs the benefits, especially when input prices have increased. How­ever, it may be easier to decide whether to apply a fungicide when you have data to show which varieties may respond better to an application.

In our variety by fungicide data from the past three years on corn and soybeans, on average, we have seen a yield bump from a fungicide application in the corn trials of 13.1 bushels per acre and 4 bushels per acre in soybeans. However, each hybrid or variety differs in its response. In corn, we have seen a range of yield bump from 0 to 27 bushels per acre and on soybeans the range is from 0 to 10.4 bushels.

Again, if we are trying to decide if the overall benefits of fungicide outweigh the cost, let’s put it in numbers that make sense. As I wrote this, the futures price for September corn is $6.08 and for soybeans is $14.99. Just in terms of gaining the average yield bump we’ve seen across all varieties for the past three years, for corn you would be looking an extra $43 per acre after the cost of application and a premium fungicide.


As mentioned earlier, we have done a lot of work over the years on fungicide and the added benefits they bring to our crop. Some of our recent fungicide work involves in-furrow fungicide applications, specifically with Xyway LFR. For the past three years, we have had trials with this product and variations of other treatments, looking at an agronomically suitable solution for disease control.

Click to hear Cameron talk about researchFigure 3A lists yield averages for some of the treatments that have been in our trials at both our Boonville and Columbia lo­cations. As you can see from our data, Xyway by itself is bring­ing a yield advantage of a little more than 3 bushels per acre. However, when you apply it with an over-the-top fungicide at VT-R1 timeframe, we achieved an increase of about 13 bushels per acre. You can see, though, just applying an over-the-top fungicide at the proper timing is bringing equal or better yield benefit.

Does that mean that I believe that Xyway LFR is not a good product? I wouldn’t say that. I believe that it needs to be placed in the right environment for it to show added benefits. When we think about the diseases that Xyway LFR can potentially control, we generally are looking at stalk rots, grey leaf spot and northern corn leaf blight. These diseases overwinter and live on the crop residue in the soil, unlike a disease such as southern rust that overwinters in the South and is blown in with weather patterns every year.

Our testing sites are conventionally tilled, and residue is reduced, so southern rust is the main disease that impacts our yields each year. However, in the northern part of our trade ter­ritory, where southern rust isn’t necessarily the driver disease or in no-till fields with high crop residue, I believe that the benefits of Xyway LFR will show a much greater impact. We can see evi­dence of that in our corn-on-corn data from the past two years. As you can imagine, the crop residue is much higher in this part of the field, even though it is conventional till each year.

Figure 3B shows that Xyway LFR is bringing a much larger yield benefit than in trials with little crop residue. This is still with southern rust as the driver disease, as you can see by greater increase in yield with an over-the-top fungicide that is helping to fight that disease.

Continuing to focus on fungicides, we have conducted ap­plication timing studies at both of our sites. The main goal is to show the importance of not only applying a fungicide to the crop but also applying it at the correct timing. For both corn and soybeans, we have had an untreated check, a vegetative application and five timings during the reproductive stages of growth.

The data shown in figures 3C and 3D are the combined averages of these trials for the past three years at both of our locations. For corn, the optimal timing for fungicide appli­cation is at VT, which is statistically significant from the rest of the other timings. In soybeans, the window is a little wider from a statistical­ly significant standpoint, with R1-R3 as the optimal timing.

While benefits of fungicides is hopefully evi­dent and proven, there is a way we can boost the fungicide to provide an even better return. Slow-release nitrogen (SRN) gives us that opportunity by working synergistically with fungicides, most importantly those with stro­bilurins. SRNs provide an efficient method of delivering low-use rate of nitrogen to the plant when it is being stressed. Applying fungicides not only prevents disease but also puts some stress on the crop as the mechanisms of action go to work. Providing nitrogen to the plant allows it to quickly overcome the stress and promote plant growth and health, resulting in more gains.

MFA’s Gold Advantage Trend-B is a slow-re­lease nitrogen product with the added benefit of boron. Boron is an essential nutrient needed during a crop’s reproductive stages for grain development. While boron is not very mobile within the plant, it can be mobile in the soil. When taken up early, boron most likely won’t move enough within the plant to reach areas that need it most. With its mobility in the soil, boron might not be available to be taken up at that time either. Trend-B not only provides nitrogen to help the fungicide promote more efficient plant performance but also helps deliver optimal boron nutri­tion for final grain development. Proper timing is crucial to get the most out of these applications for both SRNs and fungicides.

We have conducted trials with Trend-B and our Gold Advan­tage Corn and Soybean foliar products in conjunction with fun­gicide applications. In figure 3E, you can see the results from the past three years in our soybean trials with these products together. Statistically significant results show that by including either Gold Advantage Soybean or Gold Advantage Trend-B with a fungicide application on soybeans there is an added yield bump of 3 bushels per acre over just fungicide alone and a 7-bushel-per-ace increase over untreated.

In figure 3F, you can see the results of our trials from the past three years on corn with fungicide and Trend-B. As with all our other fungicide trials, we saw an average increase of 14 bushels per acre with a fungicide application and an additional increase of 3 to 4 bushels per acre with Trend-B.


Behind N, P and K, most corn producers would agree that sulfur is by far the next-most important nutrient. We have seen a large uptick in fertilization of sulfur, mainly due to the lack of atmospheric sulfur that has dwindled over the years. Clean air policies have done an excellent job of removing our atmospher­ic sulfur that we received as “acid rain.” Sulfur deficiency is op­posite of nitrogen since it is immobile in the plant and therefore shows up as early-season yellowing of corn in new leaf tissue.

While recognition of sulfur nutrition has gained traction as necessary for corn, the need for it in soybean nutrition has been slow to be realized. Recently, there has been some interest in yield benefits of applying sulfur to soybeans. Purdue University has been looking at this for several years and has shown some promise in increasing soybean yields. More on how sulfur im­pacts corn and soybeans can be found in Scott Wilburn’s article from last month’s issue of Today’s Farmer.

With high interest in this topic, we tested applications of ammonium sulfate (AMS) to soybeans at different timings. Our treatments included an untreated check with no added sulfur as well as three different timings of application—at-planting, early vegetative, and reproductive—and three different rates of AMS—10, 20, and 40 pounds of actual sulfur. We saw an uptick in yield of about 2 to 4 bushels per acre with all rates of AMS at planting and early vegetative timings compared to the untreated check. We plan to replicate this trial in 2022 to get multiple years of data.

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Kill more parasites, avoid resistance with combination treatment

As scientists continue to look for new parasiticides, the cat­tle industry must seek ways to preserve the efficacy of current and future deworming products on the market.

One solution is using two dewormers from different drug classes. This practice is known as combination treatment and has been proven to reduce fecal egg counts in cattle herds by nearly 99%. When high efficacy like this is achieved, there are also few­er resistant parasite survivors to cause trouble down the road.

How does combination treatment work? All commercially available dewormers kill parasites. Where they differ is the spec­trum of parasites covered as well as their duration.

There are two classes of cattle dewormers, depending on their chemical structure. Successful combination treatment uses two dewormers from different classes with different modes of action:

1. Macrocyclic lactones (endectocides) come in both injectable and pour-on forms. The active ingredients cause nerve paraly­sis of both internal and external parasites. This class provides longer-duration control compared to benzimidazoles.

2. Benzimidazoles (white dewormers) are administered orally and act as purge dewormers to internal parasites. They inter­fere with microtubules of the parasites, depleting their energy supply and eventually causing their death. Benzimidazoles are usually in and out of the system within a couple of days.

It’s important to remember that there are multiple active ingre­dients within each class, all of which use the same mode of action to eliminate parasites.

If you’re looking to boost cattle performance and productivity, combination treatment can be a great option. By administering a parasiticide from both classes at the same time, you maxi­mize efficacy and control more parasites—reducing the risk of developing resistance in your herd. However, this practice is not something to try without a conversation with your veterinarian.

In addition to combination treatment, there are other ways cattle producers can maximize dewormer effectiveness:

Product selection — While active ingredients may be the same, there can be differences in how dewormers are made, the quality measures taken and even other ingredients included. As a result, some generic products perform quite differently. Be sure to choose products backed by extensive research.

Product application — It’s difficult to know for sure if the deworming product is doing its job if not administered correctly. Be certain the product is stored correctly, the dose you’re admin­istering is accurate for the weight of the animal and that your equipment is properly functioning. A frequent practice is to dose dewormers according to the average weight of the herd. While convenient, this can overdose or under-dose a number of cattle and diminish the drug’s effectiveness. Investing in a cattle scale will help with accurate dosing and reduce product waste.

Diagnostic testing — Performing routine diagnostic tests such as fecal egg counts and coprocultures can help you assess the effectiveness of your deworming program and determine which species of parasite(s) is infecting the cattle. Your herd veterinarian can advise you on the proper method and assist you with con­ducting these tests for the most accurate results.

Refugia — This practice, which means a percentage of the herd is intentionally not dewormed, is recognized as the single most important factor in delaying parasite resistance. Leaving a portion of the parasite population in “refuge” from dewormers reduces drug-resistance selection pressure.

Pasture management — Limit overgrazing, maintain appro­priate forage height and rotate pastures if possible.

Cattle management — Producers can increase overall herd immunity through routine vaccinations and enhanced nutrition. In addition, implementing biosecurity measures can help prevent the introduction of resistant parasites.

Veterinarian involvement — Correct dosing, choosing the right animals to deworm and monitoring parasites will benefit your cattle herd and the future of the industry. No two herds or opera­tions are the same, and neither are their parasite burdens. Your vet­erinarian can help evaluate your operation’s needs and recommend deworming programs and products based on the findings. Your operation type, pasture history and grazing season, along with age and category of your animals, will all be considerations.

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Improved soil health, weed control are among benefits of planting into living cover crops

THE TRACTOR AND PLANTER MAKE THEIR WAY through a waist-high jungle of cereal rye, depositing soybean seeds into the soil underneath the thick, green growth. It’s early June, and Adam Jones has yet to spray a single ounce of herbicide in this field on his Lewis County, Mo., farm.

“I did nothing from a weed-control standpoint during February, March, April, May and even the first part of June,” Jones said. “So, I ran almost four months with no soil residual herbicides there. Normally, I would have had to either work that field or spray it two or three times to get to June 3. That’s a big deal.”

Not that long ago, this would have seemed like a foolhardy move to many grow­ers, but “planting green” into cover crops is becoming more common on Midwest farms. Surveys by USDA indicate that more than half of cover crop producers have now adopted this practice in which the cash crop—typically soybeans or corn—is seeded directly into an actively growing cover crop instead of terminating it earlier in the season.

“As growers gain experience with cover crops, they’re becoming more comfort­able planting green, especially with soybeans into cereal rye,” said Jones, MFA’s natural resources conservation specialist. “By letting that cover crop mature and get as tall as possible before you terminate, you’re adding more plant material to that field. And the more plant material you add, the faster you will see results of using cover crops.”

While it may seem counter-intuitive to plant while there’s still another crop in the ground, this management technique can offer both soil health and logistical advantages. Of the cover crop producers surveyed in 2020 by USDA, 68% report­ed better soil moisture management when planting green, and more than half said it helped them plant earlier than they could in fields that didn’t have cover crops.

“When the cover crop is allowed to grow longer, it provides greater above- and below-ground biomass, which helps to increase water infiltration and reduce surface runoff and soil erosion,” Jones said. “Farmers can often plant sooner in the spring because the living cover crop helps keep the soil warmer and drier.”

In addition, 70% of the cover crop survey respondents said planting green improved their weed control. When actively growing, cover crops compete with weeds for light, nutrients and water, Jones explained, and then the terminated residue continues to physically suppress weeds by creating a barrier and blocking light from reaching the soil surface. Following up with recom­mended passes of residual herbicides will be needed later in the season, he added.

On his farm, Jones said he prefers to plant green and then terminate the cover crop within a few days, if conditions allow. Pulling the planter at an angle across the rows of rye helps knock back the cover crop until he can get it sprayed.

“I want that cover crop to go down and stay down once I plant, so it needs to be terminated fairly quickly,” he said. “If you give the rye a chance to stand back up, your soybeans will take a hit from losing sunlight. Also, you want that residue down on the ground as much as possible for weed control. I typically want to spray less than three or four days after planting. The only way I would plant into the cover crop and let it grow with the soybeans for a while is if I had an ability to roll it down—and there are a lot of farmers who successfully do that.”

In his experience, Jones said there have been no yield losses associated with the practice on his farm. In fact, he’s often seen slight yield increases compared to other fields where cover crops were terminated earlier in their growth stages. Industry data and grower surveys corroborate that observation.

“All the research will tell you there is not a yield penalty, which I believe to 100% be correct,” Jones said. “If anything, a lot of them will show a bushel or two yield bump. There’s a couple of reasons why. The cover crops are utilizing extra nitrate out of the soil profile, which forces the soybeans to work a little bit harder to fix their nitrogen. That’s a good thing. Also, the residue on the soil surface helps prevent those dry periods. Soybeans are not nearly as deeply rooted as cereal rye, so pre­serving that moisture in the upper part of the profile is pretty critical.”

Planting into living cover crops isn’t that much different from planting into other no-till or even conventionally tilled condi­tions, Jones added. Success largely depends on good seed-to-soil contact.

“Even with that much residue and biomass on top of the ground, the mechanics of planting are going to be the same,” he said. “We still need to open the slot. We still need to place the seed accurately, maintain it in the trench, and then close it back up correctly to get good germination and emergence.”

Planter setup is key to making sure those steps happen, ac­cording to Lucas Brass, soil conservationist with USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in northeast Missouri. Both the planter and attachments need to be in good condition and properly adjusted, he said, accounting for the thickness of the standing cover and field conditions.

“When you go into rye or any type of thick cover, you have to get it out of the way,” Brass said. “You want to have good sharp openers that will cut through the cover and avoid pushing residue down into your seed trench. You also need a good seed firmer to make sure you’re getting that seed down in the bottom of the trench. The closing wheels are also important. There are lot of options out there. Make sure you have something that works in your fields.”

If growers have not tried planting green in the past, Jones recommends they start by seeding soybeans into cereal rye. Planting corn into a living cover crop is pos­sible, he said, but takes more advanced management.

“Typically, when planting green with corn, you want a much more balanced cover crop mix, something that is not as cereal grain dominated,” Jones explained. “It should have wheat or oats or something like that but also species with a lower carbon-to-nitrogen ratio such as winter peas, canola or crimson clover. You’re trying to balance the biomass on the ground so you don’t cannibalize all your nitrogen for the year. Planting soybeans into cereal rye works in most fields the first time you try it. With corn, it means a little more give and take.”

Planting green is an allowed practice under Risk Management Agency guidelines, Brass pointed out. Growers should check with their crop insurance agent or USDA office to make sure they are following the planting and termination parameters set for their areas.

Back on his family farm, Jones is gearing up for another season of planting green. Last year, he said about 80% of his soybeans were planted into standing rye. This year, he intends for that number to be 100%.

“Erosion control, weed sup­pression, moisture management, increased organic matter—the benefits of planting green definite­ly outweigh the concerns, as long as you’re doing everything right,” Jones said. “I have yet to see a downside. Don’t be afraid to try it.”

For more information on inte­grating cover crops into your crop production strategies, contact your local NRCS office or MFA affiliate or email Adam Jones at ajones@ mfa-inc.com.

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