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Conservation in concert

Demonstrating how modern pork and row-crop farms can protect the environment while caring for livestock and wildlife, Brinker Farms of Auxvasse, Mo., was named the 2019 recipient of the Missouri Leopold Conservation Award. Kenny and Susan Brinker and their family were honored with a $10,000 award and commemorative crystal trophy Feb. 11 at the Missouri Pork Expo in Columbia.

The Brinkers’ business model focuses on their farrow-to-finish op­eration, Harrison Creek Farms, crop production and processing and marketing Brinker Farms Pork. The Brinkers farm with their sons, Travis and Cody, along with their son-in-law Gary Seute, who is married to their daughter, Amanda.

“Diversity is the key to success when balancing natural resources and the need to make a living. There is no better ex­ample of diversity in an operation than exhibited by Brinker Farms,” said Grover DePriest, acting Missouri state conserva­tionist. “The Brinkers are an exemplary illustration of how we can live in harmony with the land.”

The Leopold Award honors farmers’ achievement in voluntary stewardship and natural resources management. The Sand County Foundation created the award in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold to inspire American landowners by recognizing exceptional farmers, ranchers and foresters. Leopold’s 1949 collection of essays, “A Sand County Almanac,” is one of the most influential books about the environment ever written. His namesake award has been presented annually since 2003 by the Sand County Foundation, which was established in 1965 to preserve the Wisconsin property where Leopold did his writing and research. The organization now supports and promotes conservation on working lands across the U.S. and presents the Leopold award in 14 states. It was first awarded in Missouri in 2017.

Missouri Farmers Care, a coalition of agricultural organizations, in­cluding MFA Incorporated, partners with the Sand County Foundation to bring the Leopold award to the Show-Me State. Other finalists for the award this year were Oetting Homestead Farms of Concordia in Lafayette County and Joshlin and Addie Yoder of Leonard in Shelby County.

When Kenny and Susan relocated to their Callaway County farm in 1993, it presented an opportunity to design new hog facilities but came with environ­mental challenges. The Brinkers were one of the nation’s first farm families to adopt the National Pork Board’s Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan, which addresses all of the conservation aspects of an animal-feeding operation. But their conservation journey began long before.

“Our parents taught us by example the importance of taking care of the land and our animals,” Kenny said. “We give the best care to our pigs because they are our liveli­hood, and we are their stewards.”

Modern buildings allow the Brinkers to provide a comfortable environment for their livestock and manage manure. With Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) funding for irrigation equipment, nutrients from the operation’s manure storage lagoon are distributed to hundreds of acres of cropland, supplying crop nutri­ent needs while reducing input costs for fertilizer.

In addition to their hog operation, the Brinkers use a variety of conservation prac­tices including no-till, grass waterways, terraces and variable-rate technol­ogy on their corn and soybean fields to improve soil health, fertility and water quality. In the past five years, the family has incorporated cereal rye as a cover crop to improve the soil’s infiltration rate and further reduce erosion.

“In agriculture, our greatest resource is the land, and as farmers it is our duty to be good stewards of that land for future generations,” said Robert Alpers, chairman of the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council, one of the Leopold partnering organizations. “This award puts a spotlight on farm families, like the Brinkers, living the example of outstanding stewardship.”

Wildlife has also flourished on the Brinker farm with improvements the family made. The farm once had a neglected wet area where 300 acres drained to one spot. The Brinkers worked with soil conservationists to design a dam that would replace the steep gully that had formed. It creat­ed a six-acre wetland that attracts beavers, muskrat, ducks and geese. In collaboration with a state deer biologist, the Brinkers developed a plan to enhance the quality of the whitetail herd. Their crop fields are bordered with warm-season grasses, alfalfa and forbs. Food plots of wheat, clover, sunflowers and grain crops provide habitat for quail and rabbits.

Missouri landowners are encouraged to apply or be nominated for next year’s Leopold Award. Applications are reviewed by an independent panel of agricultural and conservation leaders.

Visit leopoldconservationaward.org for more information. A video high­lighting Brinker Farms is available online at bit.ly/BrinkerLeopoldAward.

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Trial by flood

Flooding in many parts of our trade territory not only affected producers in 2019 but also MFA’s research testing site known as Training Camp. For the past eight years, we have conducted agronomic trials in Boonville, Mo., in the river bottoms just north of the Missouri River. Last spring, we were able to get everything planted before the levee broke just south of the field and flooded the entire bottoms in early June.

Since our Boonville farm was flooded, we weren’t able to hold our an­nual MFA Training Camp field day that usually includes more than 400 MFA employees and ag industry personnel. However, we were able to obtain another research site east of Columbia and provide two field days for growers to tour our test plots.

MFA’s training sites provide hands-on participation in our testing and product evaluation process. Last year’s research included variety trials for MorCorn, MorSoy, DeKalb, Asgrow, Mycogen and NK as well as corn and soybean seed treatments, foliar nutritionals, fungicides, fertilizer studies, understanding dicamba volatility, starter fertilizer and soybean popula­tion.

Beyond the educational opportunities these field days provided for participants, multiple replicated testing sites across MFA’s trade territory delivered data vital for product improvement and evaluation. We con­ducted 30 large-scale, side-by-side trials evaluating fertility, fungicides, seed treatments, plant growth regulators and other biologicals. On the following pages you will find summaries of these trials and results of the research conducted at the test plot site in Columbia in 2019.

MORCORN VARIETY TRIALS

MorCorn variety trials were planted on June 2 with a total of 36 hybrids tested ranging from 104-day comparative relative maturity (CRM) to 117 CRM. We tested 10 MorCorn commercial checks against 24 experimen­tal hybrids and two competitor hybrids.

The field was fertilized with 180 pounds of actual N in the form of SuperU. When we were finally able to get this site planted, there was an expected chance of six inches of rain the next week, so we delayed nitrogen applications until we could ensure that we had a viable stand to complete our trials. By the time we were able to get nitrogen on the test site, the corn was at the V5 growth stage. As you will see, we were still able to produce a good corn crop even with late application of nitrogen. Corn doesn’t use most of its nitrogen until the V6 growth stage, which is why we talk about the importance of getting your nitrogen on the field at the right rate and time but also ensuring that it is protected by nitrogen stabilizers to reduce loss before the plant is ready to utilize it.

The planting population was 32,500 plants per acre. Despite the late planting, yields were impressive for this site. The top end hit 226 bushels per acre with an experimental hybrid. On the bottom were a couple of experimental hybrids at 182 bushels per acre. Results from this year’s MorCorn training site trials can be seen in Fig. 1A and 1B. In addition to our training sites, these hybrids were tested across multiple environments and geographies in 12 other locations within MFA’s trade terri­tory. In Fig. 1C, you can see a yield comparison for the varieties that have been tested multiple times from 2017-2019 at our replicated sites.

MORSOY VARIETY TRIALS

In terms of soybeans, the diversity of MFA’s trade territory is reflected in the MorSoy lineup. MorSoy varieties range from 3.3 to a 5.0 in maturity and include conventional products as well as Roundup Ready 2 Yield Technology, Roundup Ready Xtend, LibertyLink and Enlist E3. The MorSoy variety trials were plant­ed on June 2 with a total of 55 varieties. We tested 26 MorSoy commercial checks against 27 experimental varieties and two competitor varieties. The planting population was 140,000 plants per acre.

The trials were grouped by relative maturity ranges into four categories with all of the herbicide technology traits combined. Therefore, weed control was maintained with a sound agro­nomic conventional herbicide program. Results from this year’s MorSoy training site trials can be seen in Fig. 2A, 2B, 2C and 2D. In addition to our training sites, these varieties were tested across multiple environments and geographies in 12 other locations within MFA’s trade territory. In Fig. 2E, you can see a yield comparison for the varieties that have been tested multiple times from 2016-2019 at our replicated sites.

FUNGICIDE TRIALS

Over the years, benefits from foliar fungicides have been well documented in both disease control and plant development. This past year, we doubled our variety trials for both corn and soybeans so we could look at the impact of fungicide by variety. Fig. 3A and 3B show overall results for the early and late-season corn varieties, with combined yield for the untreated block and the block treated with Trivapro. As you can see, there was an increase of 20 to 25 bushels in the plots that were treated with fungicide over those untreated in a year with limited disease pressure. We conducted soybean trials the same way and treat­ed the plants with Quadris Top. We saw a 3-bushel to 6-bushel increase on the soybean plots treated with fungicide.

SLOW-RELEASE NITROGEN AND FUNGICIDE TRIALS

While benefits of fungicide on our crops are 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 rates of nitrogen to the plant when it is being stressed. This allows fungicides to reduce stress and promote plant growth, resulting in more gains and higher N efficiency.

MFA’s own Gold Advantage Trend-B is a slow-release nitrogen with boron added. Boron is an essential nutrient needed during a crop’s reproductive stages for grain development. However, boron is not very mobile within the plant. When taken up early, boron most likely won’t move enough within the plant to the areas that need it most. By applying Trend-B, we are not only providing nitrogen to help the fungicide promote more efficient plant performance, but also helping 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 done many studies with Gold Advantage Trend-B as well as Gold Advantage Corn and Soybean products with fungi­cide in trials. The tables above summarize the results from 2019 with these products. In Fig. 5A, you can see the results from our SRN trial for corn. While the results are not statistically significant, you can see that there is a trend of increased yields by applying fungicide with Trend-B and Gold Advantage Corn at the proper timing of VT-R1. In Fig. 5B, you can see similar yield benefits in soybeans by providing fungicide and SRNs at the proper timing.

FUNGICIDE TIMING

If there was a theme to our trial work last year, it would be fungicides. In particular, we wanted to look at the best timing for fungicide application. Is it worth it to be early and make applications when we can, or should we wait just a little longer until the soybeans have reached full flower? Or can we delay applications until we near the end? In 2019 trials, we applied fungicide on soybeans at seven different timings, two at early vegetation stages and five during each of the early reproductive stages. As you can see in Fig. 6A, in a year where limited disease pressure was present, the vegetation application timings were similar to the untreated check. We also didn’t see an impact from the fungicide in the later stages of soybean reproduction. Where fungicides made the most impact were in the early re­productive stages when the soybeans are setting pods. That was shown to be the most optimal timing for fungicide application with an increase of 4 to 5 bushels.

SOYBEAN POPULATION TRIAL

We often get questions about soybean population and what is considered a viable stand to determine replants. We conducted a planting population trial to determine the impact of plant population on overall yield. While the results were not statisti­cally significant, in Fig. 7A you can see that an increase in pop­ulation correlated to yield increase until a certain point. This is expected for lower populations because soybeans are well adapted to “make up” for lost stand. They will branch and fill the voids to the best of their ability, but lower populations allow for less canopy closure and more competition from weeds. On the top end, eventually the soybeans will compete with them­selves, which means higher yields cannot be achieved by simply having more plants.

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In this March 2020 issue

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Plants out of place

Weeds.

They persist and resist, and every growing season presents new hurdles. The most successful survive and reproduce. They outcompete crops for resources such as water, sunlight and nutrients. They pose ever-increasing challenges for producers.

“A weed is defined as a plant out of place,” said Dr. Reid Smeda, professor of weed sciences at the University of Missouri in Columbia. “Every weed has a unique niche and how it’s going to be successful in the soil.”

Many farmers have long relied on the quick-fix control provided by post-emergent herbicides such as glyphosate, glufosinate and 2,4-D, but with resistance on the rise and limited new technologies on the horizon, management strategies have to change. The key is how.

“Weeds will only respond to our practices,” Smeda said. “If we do the same thing over and over again, no matter what it is, the weeds will adjust, the species will shift. Then we’re back to a prob­lem again.”

Overlapping residuals combined with a post-emergent herbicide is the best bet for sustaining these chemistries in the long run, said Dr. Jason Weirich, MFA vice president of sales and agronomy. It’s a practice he’s been preaching for the greater part of the last decade.

“It’s a double-edged sword when we go to the farm gate,” Weirich said. “When we make the rec­ommendation for overlapping residuals and to use multiple modes of action, it’s not about a sale. It’s about sound science and stewardship. There’s nothing new coming down the pipeline. Ultimately, it’s the producer’s choice, but we want to make sure that our farmers have options as we go into the next growing season and five years down the road.”

Before Bill Fry of Burlington, Kan., began working with his local AGChoice agronomists in 2016, he could see the writing on the wall. His current weed management plan wasn’t working optimally for his operation, and he was spending too much money on expensive chemicals to control what he could.

“We put a burndown on in the spring, but we had to come back at least twice with a post appli­cation to keep the weeds even halfway under control,” Fry said. “Even then we probably only had about 80% control in our fields.”

For the last 30 years, he has been no-till farming ground near the Neosho River. There, he grows corn and soybeans in addition to managing 250 head of cattle.

“Bill really wants to do everything he can to keep his fields clean,” said Colin Kraft, MFA preci­sion agronomy specialist, who works with Fry to develop recommendations for the farm and scouts roughly 1,000 acres of the farmer’s row-crop fields. “He wants to be progressive and do everything right for his operation.”

When Fry began working with MFA’s precision team, together they came up with a new plan. In the fall, Fry applies a burndown application of glyphosate and 2,4-D in the fields he plans to plant into corn the next spring. In the spring, he uses a pre-emergent herbicide on those same fields roughly two weeks before planting along with an overlapping residual. Fry is seeing a difference.

“Our crop scouts come around about once a week, and we’re ahead of the weeds all the time,” Fry said. “It saves us a lot of money and chemical because we don’t have to spend as much trying to get rid of a weed a foot tall. I would say our fields are 95-98% weed free now.”

PRINCIPLES OF RESIDUALS

The type of vigilant weed control found on Fry’s farm shows that herbicide programs still work if used properly and judi­ciously, Weirich said.

“A combination of some of these products will pick up controls,” he said. “The main takeaway is we need to be making sure we are taking the best steps we can to steward the products that we do have.”

If there is a break in treatment, weeds have the potential to take root and grow, and there’s a greater risk of developing herbicide resistance. That’s why overlapping residuals are needed to suppress those weeds, Smeda explained.

“A farmer applies a herbicide in the spring at a certain rate,” he said. “Once applied, herbicides degrade over time to lower concentrations, and this is aided by warm tem­peratures and soil moisture. When the concentration of that herbicide drops below a specific threshold, weeds will germinate.”

The threshold for each weed species is different, Smeda continued. Grasses may germinate at a lower threshold than waterhemp, and waterhemp may germinate at a lower threshold than morning glory.

“At different times through the season, you’ll start to notice weeds break through,” he said. “That’s a reflection of the degradation of the chemical in the soil through natural means. Natural chemical degradation can be facilitated by microbes including bacteria and fungi. Some herbicides on the soil surface can also be broken down by photodegrada­tion, which is the result of exposure to UV light.”

As time passes, less chemical exists in the soil.

“At the point where weeds start breaking through, a post-emergence application is needed to kill emerging weeds. Along with that, additional residual herbicide is added to boost the level of herbicide present,” Smeda said. “By doing that, you’re extending the suppression of sensitive species for a longer period of time and reducing the poten­tial that you have to put another herbicide on.”

MOUNTING A RESISTANCE

A good herbicide program requires more than just residuals, Weirich added. A multi-pronged approach is needed. Each chemistry has different modes of action for control of certain weed species. By varying modes of action in accordance with a proper herbicide recommendation, the probability of resistance is exponentially decreased.

And preventing resistance is an ongoing battle in the world of weed management. In Missouri, 15 weed species have confirmed herbicide resistance. Of those 15, water­hemp is considered to be the most problematic, followed by horseweed, Palmer amaranth and giant ragweed. Now there are suspicions about Johnsongrass.

The first documented case of glyphosate-resistant John­songrass was collected from a soybean field near West Mem­phis, Ark., in 2008. Recently, Smeda collected some rhizome samples from western Missouri to study.

He and some of his graduate students are now conducting Johnsongrass trials in MU greenhouses. “We want to verify if there is resistance and determine the mechanism. Johnsongrass is difficult to manage in corn, and the potential loss of glypho­sate as a management tool could be problematic.”

If Johnsongrass and other significant grasses such as giant foxtail and fall panicum become resistant to glyphosate, Smeda said there would be large holes in the Roundup Ready technology.

“Roundup Ready’s real effec­tiveness is on a lot of the grasses and secondary species,” Smeda said. “But we’re already having to put other chemicals in. That’s why Xtend and Enlist soybeans were developed. It’s going to really require us to think about new strategies of how we’re going to manage this in a corn system as well as soybeans.”

Last year, University of Illinois weed scientists also document­ed waterhemp resistance to the Group 15 class of herbicides— long-chain fatty acid inhibitors, which include products such as Dual, Warrant, Outlook, Degree, Harness and others.

Sometimes called “the super­weed,” waterhemp has demonstrated resistance to six herbicidal modes of action: atrazine, 2,4-D, chlorimuron, fomesafen, glyphosate and mesotrione.

“That doesn’t leave us much, does it?” Weirich said. “Group 15 herbicides are commonly used as part of our residual pro­grams and not only heavily used in soybeans but also in corn. Losing that effectiveness on waterhemp on some populations we know is possible, and it’s something we need to be aware of because currently we don’t have any new modes of action from a residual standpoint.”

If herbicides continue to lose their effectiveness, me­chanical measures like the chopping crews and culti­vators used in some southern states are still an option. However, these control methods are expensive and unreasonable for the size of most farming operations in MFA’s territory.

“Missouri is predominantly a no-till state,” Weirich said. “I’m not sure that we’re ready to go back to that kind of system here from the standpoint of equipment, stewardship and the farming practices we have today.”

CULTURAL CONTROLS

Implementing cultural controls such as cover crops could also help farmers fight weeds. Cereal rye, specifically, has allelopathic properties, meaning the plant itself produces biological chem­icals that affect the growth and survival of other plants.

“Rye is one of the most allelo­pathic of the cereal cover crops,” Smeda said. “Compounds re­leased from the roots of rye have unique herbicidal-type activity. When planted in the fall, it will keep out winter annual weeds. Once the crop is terminated, there are two to six weeks of soil residual activity from those allelopathic compounds.”

In addition, Smeda said 50% of the weeds in Missouri and surrounding areas are light sen­sitive. Because of this, cereal rye can have a suppressive effect.

“Cereal rye forms a sort of mat,” Weirich said. “It basically intercepts the light, causing a smothering effect on the soil. Is it 100% effective? No, it’s not, but it does take out a few of those populations that might be at risk for herbicide resistance and provide a different control method.”

Even before working with MFA and AGChoice, Bill Fry was planting cereal rye as a cover crop for his cattle to graze through the winter. In the fall, when the corn is starting to dry down, he has the seed flown on with a plane. The next spring, he removes the cattle and lets the rye continue to grow. He terminates the cover crop prior to planting soybeans in the residue.

For Fry, the cover crop offers many benefits.

“If you have a good stand, the rye not only fills in the tracks from the cattle, but also helps keep weeds out,” he said. “The cows prefer it to hay. Plus, it provides mulch for the plants.”

Fry stressed that farmers interested in growing rye as a cover crop should do their research.

“Cereal rye is easy to terminate; rye grass is not,” he said.

EXPANDING ENLIST

New traits in crop genetics also offer promise for combating weeds, but stewardship of these technologies is a concern.

Last year, Corteva Agriscience released the Enlist E3 trait of soybeans. Enlist soybeans are tolerant to three classes of herbicides: 2,4-D, glyphosate and glufosinate.

“It’s really going to be the first year where we’re going to have a large number of acres of Enlist,” Weirich said. “Pre­viously, when we had a new trait come out, we saw a step back in adoption of residual herbicides, and growers relied more on post-emergent applications only. Due to current commodity prices and the farm-gate value, some people think we will see that again. If we do, we will see weed resistance.”

Smeda also worries about future management practices surrounding these new traits.

“GMO crops have been a great advantage for farmers,” he said. “But it made us a little management lax and too long dependent on those tools that were successful. Now we’re trying to get back to other tools like residuals combined with post applications that were also successful in the past but abandoned because of the ease of these other programs.”

After the drought of 2018 and flooding in 2019, proper weed management is particularly important this year, Weirich stressed.

“Due to the environmental factors of the last two seasons, I do expect to see increased weed presence in our fields,” he said. “In areas of flooding, we could also see weeds we haven’t seen in a while from soil deposits. We just can’t forget what we’ve learned over the past 20 years. This is definitely not the year to cut back on herbicides, especially residuals.”

For more information on how MFA can help with weed management, contact your local MFA or AGChoice agronomist.

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