Welcome to the 2019 BASF Innovations in the Field. This yearlong program is designed to showcase four progressive farmers and their use of technology and agronomic practices to enhance their return on investment and profit potential. Check back each week as the farmers share their experiences and crop management decisions throughout the growing season.
Who do you trust to help nail down your fertilizer program and pick your seed, herbicides and fungicides? More and more farmers are turning to independent crop consultants–consultants who sell advice, not products.
Brent Lassiter, owner of ProAg Services in Newport, Arkansas, is one of that emerging group of consultants. "Being independent is an asset," says Lassiter, "because it tells farmers we don't have an agenda other than keeping them in business."
Lassiter is living proof that farmers value good independent consultants. "The saying is when times get tough farmers cut their consultants," he says. "Well, that's not happened to us. We've actually been relied upon more."
Lassiter thinks this trust exists because tough times drive farmers to become more efficient. And to become more efficient they need consultants more, not less. A big part of being efficient involves using technology such as soil moisture sensors to fine-tune irrigation, aerial imagery to spot problems in the field, variable rate technology to fine-tune inputs, and alternate wetting and drying (AWD) to reduce water demand.
Lassiter's firm offers all these technologies along with precision ag, grid sampling, yield analysis, aerial imagery, crop planning, variety selection, soil sampling, nutrient analysis, chemical recommendations and crop scouting.
"We've become an integral part of our farmers' operations," notes Lassiter. Much of his winter is spent meeting with customers to plan and make decisions for the 2019 crop. Low grain prices are creating a big challenge. "We're steadily trying to find ways for them to make more bushels with no more money, and that's tough."
What Lassiter doesn't sell are products. "We'll compare prices for our growers, but as an independent firm we leave it to growers to buy from whomever they choose," he says. "I just want for them to get the best deal they can. We've got some great retailers in the area."
The big change in soybean production for 2017 will be a total conversion to dicamba-tolerant varieties. Since Henrekin grows soybean seed for Asgrow, he had the opportunity to produce some dicamba-resistant cultivars last year. The new dicamba herbicide products had not been approved, so he couldn't evaluate the chemistry side of the system. However, he gained insight regarding the varieties.
"We did get a look at the yieldability and agronomic characteristics of some of the varieties, and we were pleased," he says. "Glyphosate-resistant waterhemp has become an increasing problem for us, so we'll be using BASF's Engenia along with a residual to address that issue."
Going 100% dicamba-tolerant will be the safest approach, Henrekin believes. He has identified several good-yielding varieties in the Group 2.6 to 3.2 range. With a new protocol, however, he'll be relying on BASF's Norberg for a successful changeover.
"We want to make sure this is a sustainable technology for agriculture," he says. "Engenia is a new, heavier dicamba formulation with dramatically less volatility. Off-target movement is also a function of drift, though, so we have to follow a protocol that keeps the herbicide where we put it."
Lassiter's farm experience has been a valuable asset in his consulting. "Coming from a farming background, Brent has a very in-depth view of the farm and farm financials, which makes him unique," observes Virgil "Dooby" Moore, Lassiter's area BASF Innovation Specialist.
Lassiter, who has been consulting since 1996, rented a 2,500-acre farm in 2011 when his son showed an interest in farming. However, the combination of the consulting business growing and his son deciding to go into the National Guard and aviation convinced Lassiter to cut back to 400 acres in 2015, so he could focus on consulting.
It was good timing. His consulting business has grown from one to 10 consultants. And, keeping some farm acreage has also been a plus, providing acreage for field testing the effectiveness of crop protection products for the consulting business.
"Having a farm to run field trials on is a unique opportunity most consultants don't have," notes Lassiter. "While trials can be put on grower farms, and I've done that, field trials take a lot of attention just when growers are busiest, during planting and harvesting. On my farm, I can control the trials to get accurate results."
Lassiter has found BASF's Moore to be very helpful in finding solutions for grower crop problems. Two of the most pressing challenges in his region are ALS-resistant flatsedge, a weed that's becoming a big problem in area rice fields, and target spot, a fungus causing yield loss in soybeans and cotton.
Flatsedge: "We have very heavy flatsedge pressure," notes Lassiter. Working with Moore, he ran a field trial in 2018 on preemergence application of SharpenÂ® herbicide for flatsedge control and was very pleased. "I'm encouraged because we really haven't had an answer for flatsedge until now," says Lassiter.
Target spot: The other major problem, target spot, "has really come on in the last two to three years in soybeans," says Lassiter. With Moore's help, Lassiter set up several large-scale, side-by-side trials with PriaxorÂ® fungicide to test its effectiveness in controlling target spot. Those trials tested several application rates of Priaxor at R3 and a second application at R5 with good results. Lassiter and Moore plan to continue the Priaxor trials in 2019.
"I appreciate that BASF has a guy like Dooby who's out there putting things in front of us early so we can test how they work," says Lassiter. "I also appreciate that he listens to us to find out what from our experience works, what hasn't worked and what we'd like to try. The great thing about Dooby," adds Lassiter, "is he is very open to new ideas. If you have an idea, something you want to try, he's all in."
Lassiter says the crop giving the most challenge right now–out of rice, cotton, peanuts, grain sorghum, corn, wheat and soybeans–is soybeans. "We're running with limited weed control options," says Lassiter. "We're using LibertyÂ® herbicide right now on pigweeds in soybeans, but we really need other options to rotate in for stewardship, whether it's EngeniaÂ® herbicide or whatever the next technology is.
"Hopefully," he adds, "the state will come up with a dicamba application cutoff time that works. No one wants to be drifted on. It's not fair to them, and it's not being a good neighbor, so we've got to find a way to use dicamba where it's needed while protecting those not using dicamba-resistant technology. We've got to figure out a way to all live together and stay in business."
One innovation Lassiter is testing with Moore's encouragement is planting soybeans early. This past spring Lassiter planted some soybeans on March 23. Those soybeans yielded 80 bushels per acre. Moore says Lassiter's not the only one getting good yields from early planted soybeans. "I had a grower plant some soybeans on March 20 last spring," says Moore, "and they were some of the highest yielding beans in the area." Moore adds that yield is just one benefit of early soybeans. "They're also cheaper to grow as they usually take one herbicide application and need "watering" four or five times less."
Lassiter added aerial imagery in 2018 to his firm's suite of services. "We're using mainly Normalized Difference Vegetation Index," he says, "and we're also using some other aerial imaging products. Imagery is used to track crop progress and identify problems in the field before they can be seen by the naked eye."
Lassiter recalls how his aerial imagery found fertilizer application mistakes in a rice field–errors that wouldn't have been seen for another two to three weeks later. By spotting them when they did, fertilizer could be applied to rectify the mistake.
Aerial imagery is also used to see if decisions being made are keeping the crop uniform and growing–and to spot areas where there may be problems, such as irrigation issues or nitrogen deficiencies. Lassiter has found aerial imagery useful in all major local crops but says it's been most useful in corn because that crop changes so quickly.
One big advantage Lassiter has over many other aerial imaging services is that he owns his own plane. As a result, he can get a plane up when the timing is optimum. Lassiter's son, who we noted earlier joined the National Guard, pilots the plane.
Another fast-growing service for Lassiter is irrigation management. "We use volumetric soil moisture sensors to help growers time irrigation to be more precise with their water use," he says. He notes that both under- and over-irrigation cause crop problems. And irrigating when it's not needed is a waste of water, energy and labor.
Lassiter is involved in supporting agriculture and education at the state and local level. He was active in the Arkansas Farm Bureau's Young Farmers and Ranchers Program serving as Vice Chair and Chair. As Chair, he had a seat on the Arkansas Farm Bureau state board.
Lassiter is also very proud of his service on the board of advisors of his local community college, Arkansas State University-Newport. "That school is very near and dear to my heart," says Lassiter, "because that's where I started." He explains that starting out with a young family and trying to start a business, he needed a school close to home–and ASU-Newport fit the bill. His oldest son and daughter-in-law also attended there. "The school is a bright shining light in this community–one of the best things we've got going," he notes proudly.
After earning his associate's degree at ASU-Newport, Lassiter went on to Arkansas State University-Jonesboro, graduating in 2000 with a B.S. in agricultural business.
-Brent Lassiter has operated ProAg Services in Newport, Arkansas, since 1996 and consults on cotton, rice, corn and soybeans.
-He once farmed as much as 2,500 acres but now uses roughly 400 acres for field trials.
-Lassiter also runs an air imaging service in which he uses his own airplane to take pictures of fields using Normalized Difference Vegetation Index and other applications.