Welcome to the 2017 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 for new blogs and videos from the farmers as they share their experiences and crop management decisions throughout the growing season. Here is a brief overview of our four participants.
Declining commodity prices and stagnant grain yields made it evident that the Ryan family had to make some production adjustments. Quickly.
"When commodity prices crashed, we still somehow had to maintain gross dollars per acre," says Shane Ryan, of Ryan Farms, located near Viola, Illinois. "We weren't satisfied with our yields, and we knew we needed to reach the next level. We knew our bushels per acre had to go up to keep that end result [income level] where we needed it."
Ryan turned to innovative products and practices, completely changing his cropping practices in areas such as fungicide use, fertility and cover crops.
In 2014, Ryan went from using no fungicides to using them on 100% of his corn and soybean acres.
The return on investment has been impressive. Ryan's average corn yields before using fungicides ranged from 195 to 200 bushels. They now average 30 to 40 bushels more per acre. "Fungicides are just one component of our operation that we changed in the past few years that contribute to our higher yields," he adds.
For corn, Ryan applies Priaxor with a postemergence herbicide at the V5 stage and comes back with Headline Amp at tassel. The two fungicides enable him to capture top-end yield and quality, maintain plant health and increase the crop's harvestability.
Ryan points out the early fungicide application "boosts the plant's metabolism â€¦ and helps increase overall plant health. The V5 stage is a critical time when corn is determining the [kernel] rows around an ear. We use the sequential application fungicide program on all our corn."
In addition to Priaxor and Headline Amp on corn, he has field-tested a Headline Amp application at tassel, coming back 10 days later with a second Headline AMP application.
"We saw very good response in plant health and a yield bump over and above a single Headline Amp application," Ryan says. "Additionally, we were able to stretch out our grain-fill period about five to six days longer than where we made one Headline Amp application at tassel. We saw greater kernel depth and greater kernel weight. At harvest, we still had green leaf area, even when harvesting corn at 20 to 22% moisture."
On soybeans, Ryan uses Priaxor. Prior to 2014, he ran side-by-side trials and saw big yield increases on treated beans compared to untreated. "Those on-farm trials convinced us to apply Priaxor on our entire soybean operation," Ryan says. "Before we started using fungicides, our soybeans averaged 50 to 52 bushels per acre. Today, we've increased yields 12 to 15 bushels over the last three years."
Rodney Phelps, BASF Innovation Specialist, says, "Ryan's willingness to try new products and practices helps our company develop and deliver better agricultural products to growers. BASF innovations help growers be more profitable and sustainable."
Ryan researched and conducted on-farm fertility trials to improve soil fertility levels. "We soil-sample on 2½-acre grids and utilize all of that information to do a better job at improving fertility," he says. Ryan points out they have tried variable-rate technology (VRT) but have put that on hold for now, instead investing the VRT money in fertilizer.
"Due to the current test levels and fertilizer prices, we feel investing our dollars in phosphorus, potassium and sulfur to build our base levels is more economical than utilizing VRT at this time. However, we plan to begin utilizing VRT pretty heavily in the near future," he says.
About 70% of Ryan's acreage is planted to a cereal rye cover crop. He eventually plans to implement cover crops on all of his acreage. He seeds the cover crop prior to harvest or immediately after, and burns it down in the spring prior to planting. Ryan believes the cover crop offers multiple benefits:
Ryan has tried new herbicides to better control broadleaf weeds: Status postemergence on corn and Outlook postemergence on soybeans. Since Outlook is labeled for soybeans and corn, he doesn't worry about crop sensitivity.
"Outlook works great on waterhemp," Ryan adds. "Waterhemp and giant ragweed are increasing their threats against us. We always maintain at least three modes of action in our herbicide program to eliminate those problems as well as managing resistance. We look forward to using Engenia herbicide in dicamba-tolerant soybeans in 2017. It's another tool in our herbicide toolbox."
In addition to using different modes of action, Ryan always uses a "layered residuals" system to prevent a waterhemp problem from occurring. Here's how it works: He applies a preemergence herbicide, whether in corn or beans, then comes back with a postemergence trip "layered" on top before the preemergence herbicide breaks so most weeds never germinate.
Ryan Farms consists of 4,500 no-till acres with a 50/50 crop rotation of dryland corn and soybeans, and a small amount of alfalfa for their 80 purebred Simmental cows in a cow/calf operation.
Shane farms in partnership with his grandfather Marty; father and mother, Dave and Beth; uncle and aunt Jim and Julie; wife, Krysti; two sisters Courtney and Kaitlyn; brother-in-law Andrew; son Cole; and two nephews and a niece Ryan, Nate and Eliza, respectively.
Shane rents the piece of land that his ancestors homesteaded seven generations ago. "I'm the third generation on this farm. My grandfather started it in the late '50s, and he continues to be here every day."
The fourth generation consists of Ryan's son, two nephews and a niece who are active in the operation, as well. "We're truly blessed to have four generations on the farm together a lot of days," he adds.
"By being innovative with products and practices, we have been able to increase our yields," Ryan points out. "While trying to be as profitable as we can, we also strive to remain good stewards of the land. We try to get as much yield as possible from our soil while maintaining soil health and being conscience of environmental issues."