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.
Mike and Mitch House like to try new things, but are adamant that new crop inputs and equipment have to prove their worth. That's especially true in agriculture's current economic climate.
"We're watching what we spend," says Mike. "You always have wants and upgrades, but you have to be careful. When we built our new office and shop we had $7 bushel corn and it was easy. If we would try to do it today, we'd really have to think about it."
The House brothers run a corn, soybean and wheat operation that includes growing soybeans and wheat for seed, and selling wheat straw to a local landscaper. Their several thousand acre operation near Atlanta, Indiana, is a combination of owned and rented land that the brothers operate in partnership. Some land in the operation has been in the House family since 1869.
They started farming for their father in the 1980s and took full control of the family operation in 2011. The brothers divided up the farm's management responsibilities with Mike taking care of the seed and planting, and Mitch doing most of the chemicals and spraying.
The operation also includes Mike's son, Grant, and his son-in-law, Nick Roudebush. Grant and Nick also have a side business, Farmstead Ironworks, where they make and sell industrial rustic lighting fixtures for homes and businesses.
Extensive field trials help Mike and Mitch determine if the return on investment from a product or agronomic practice makes economic sense for their operation.
This crop year BASF Innovation specialist Melanie Burk is working with the brothers to set up three on-farm trials. "We're going to do a study on soybeans where we'll plant three different populations of the same variety," explains Burk. "We will duplicate this trial with a few different varieties, helping determine the best planting population in terms of economics and yield."
The Houses have been decreasing their soybean populations, over the past five years. "The trials will help fine-tune the best planting population for their acres," says Burk.
The second trial will also include soybeans to test several foliar feed micronutrients. "This is a hot topic in the industry right now," says Burk. "Mitch and Mike are interested in measuring micronutrients impact on yield."
A third study will test Xanthion, an in-furrow fungicide, in corn. "The goal is to gain better emergence," says Burk, "increasing stand count and early vigor." The brothers have treated their corn acres with Headline AMP fungicide the past two years, at tassel. "Check strips have proven that those applications more than paid for themselves," says Burk.
Xanthion, which is a combination of Headline fungicide and a biological, is designed to give fungal protection to the seed and young plant. "The Headline component creates a fungal protection for the seed, plant, and root system while the biological component extends that protection to produce more consistent emergence, longer roots and early plant vigor," says Burk. "The ultimate result is larger stand count."
Despite the downturn in commodity prices, the House brothers purchased a new 24-row planter this winter. It replaces an 18-year old, 16-row planter. "We considered replacing the planter last year due to its condition," says Mike, "but held off with the down economy."
The new planter will enable them to place starter fertilizer in the row, something their old planter didn't do. Mike and Mitch also bought a new 320-hp tractor over the winter to pull the larger planter. The brothers perform much of their own machinery maintenance in a modern farm shop.
Maintaining proper fertility levels is a high priority for the Houses. They apply anhydrous ammonia pre-plant, and sidedress post planting. Phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) are blanket applied.
"Keeping on top of our soil pH is probably as important, or more important, than P and K. That's because we have 'banked' fertility for years and our soils' P and K levels are pretty good," says Mitch. As for pH, their fields are grid soil sampled every four years and lime is grid-applied.
"We have quite a bit of variation in pH in our cropland, especially in our newer farms," says Mike. "Back when we were blanket-applying lime we'd end up having a pH of 7.2 in some places and 6.2 in other spots, all in the same field. We started grid-applying lime 15 years ago. With our every 4-year schedule, we are in the fourth time through for grid-applying lime. We can see lime requirements going down each time."
This year, the Houses have 210 acres of winter wheat that they will harvest in June and then plant double-crop soybeans. "Some years double- cropping is a waste of time," says Mike. "Last year, with the good July moisture, it was real good."
The brothers rotate wheat acres to fields that need tiling. "We don't own a tiling machine," explains Mitch. "We find it much easier to get a tiler in the summer because of the limited access to corn and soybean fields that time of year. After we plant the [double-crop] soybeans, we let the tiler in to do his work." Mike says tile has been one of their best investments. "I've never put tile in and wished I had never done it. I usually put it in and think I wish I'd tiled further."
One wish the brothers are hoping for is better waterhemp control in 2017. "Our 2016 waterhemp control was "spotty" at best," recalls Mike. The problem "snuck up" on them. "We didn't have a waterhemp problem before 2016," adds Mitch, "so we didn't use a long-term residual herbicide last year to control the late-emerging weeds.
"In soybeans in 2017 we're considering going to Zidua PRO for a burndown as it has a longer-lasting residual than what we used last year," continues Mitch. He adds, however, that they'll be growing seed beans again so their final weed control choice will depend on the kind of soybeans they grow. If they grow dicamba or another herbicide-resistant soybean, they'll adjust their plans. As for corn, they're still exploring weed control options.
That's one reason the brothers look to Burk for advice. "I know she has BASF written on her coat, but I appreciate her walking with us," says Mitch. As an Innovation Specialist, Burk doesn't sell product or services, but serves entirely as a resource. "My job is to get information to farmers to help them figure out the direction to take," says Burk. The House brothers deal directly with their local co-op and other suppliers on making product purchases.