This yearlong endeavor looks at how four farmers are evaluating technology and agronomic information that can boost the productivity of their operations.
Grant Strom is constantly mining his farm for agronomic answers. Like a modern-day prospector, the Dahinda, Ill., grower searches for nuggets of knowledge in a quest to be more productive and profitable. Only when he's confident of a sound discovery does the practice extend to field trials. If a technology or practice endured field scrutiny, he wastes no time adopting it in the 5,500-acre family-farming operation.
Strom and his parents, Doug and Marsha, still farm fields purchased generations ago by his great-grandfather, small amount of minimum tillage where needed.
"We've invested in precision planting on our Case IH planters and have seen pretty significant paybacks from that, including going 100% variable-rate planting," Strom says.
When making major investments or changing practices, Strom's support team plays a vital role. "I have a really strong core of people I discuss things with, including local agronomists, seed and chemical sales people, like my BASF innovation specialist Dave Phelps, and especially peers I talk with on a regular basis," he says.
"Grant likes to try new things," Phelps says. "I am setting him up with a Dosatron injector for his planter so he can experiment with Headline EC fungicide and Xanthion In-furrow fungicide this spring."
Sometimes product failure leads to trials that lead to adoption. When Strom started hearing about single trait-related corn rootworm (CRW) issues in 2012, he set up trials the following year. In 2013, he put down a soil-applied insecticide on 90 to 95% of his single CRW trait corn that he was planting to half his corn acres. Shutting of the application equipment for a round with the 80-foot planter left 160-footwide strips with no insecticide in every field. The other half of his corn acres (including all corn-on-corn acres) had multiple traits for CRW control.
"My dad runs the combine and called me to see the severe lodging," Strom recalls. "Ichecked the planter book, and it was all in the 160-foot strips with no insecticide. There was a 20-bushel yield loss right to the line. In 2014, we put multiple modes of action in all our trait corn and used insecticide on all non-trait corn."
Strom planted 20% of his corn acres to non-GMO (genetically modified organism) hybrids in 2014 to capture premiums. Those premiums have evaporated with an increase in non-GMO acreage. Still, he's increasing that acreage by 5% in 2015 based on 2014 yields and seed costs.
"Our highest-yielding hybrid was non-GMO," he says. "It had better standability and harvestability than the same germplasm equipped with traits. Overall, there was no yield difference between traits or non-traits in corn or soybeans."
Normally, every acre gets a preplant herbicide residual with an early post application to control waterhemp. In 2014, his herbicide program was complicated by a contract to raise non-GMO seed beans. Trait and non-trait weed control alike suffered from a slow start and late canopy.
"A miscommunication with suppliers combined with bad weather led to weed-control problems in trait and non-trait varieties," Strom says. "We had Roundup Ready fields where no rain was forecast, and we were rained out while spraying or immediately after. When we went back in, the weeds were off label. Not much kills a 3-foot-tall waterhemp."
He's determined not to make a similar mistake this year. He is working closely with Phelps to develop a waterhempcontrol program for his soybeans. "Most of his soybeans are on no-till ground," Phelps says. "Some acres will have had a Distinct and glyphosate burndown last fall, or will get an Optill/Prowl/glyphosate burndown this spring followed with Outlook. If he sees waterhemp escapes, he'll apply Phoenix or Cobra with glyphosate and Outlook."
Strom is looking forward to the next generation of soybean weed control with a trait for tolerance to dicamba and a second tolerant to 2,4-D. "We have lots of options in corn, but not so much in soybeans," he says. "We will be growing some dicamba-tolerant soybeans for seed for one company, and we are pretty excited about it. Our weed-control standards took a hit in 2014, and we don't want a repeat."