This yearlong endeavor looks at how four farmers are evaluating technology and agronomic information that can boost the productivity of their operations.
The harvest of 2016 is well under way in West Tennessee. Farmers are making nice progress with the corn crop, early soybeans are coming in full force, cotton farmers are putting out defoliation, and today on the 14th of September my neighbor started picking cotton. This is about as early a cotton crop I can remember in a long while, typically we are happy to pick a little in the last week of September but this year we will be rolling pretty well in a few more days. The weather has cooperated for the most part this year. The heat pushed the cotton to maturity but wasn't too devastating to corn and soybeans. Rains were very spotty but generally most of West Tennessee caught some timely rains.
Corn has been the most effected by some spotty rain and untimely heat during some pollinating. Our 110–112 day corns were at a critical stage when we caught a hot, dry, period in late June. Yields so far have ranged from 110 bushels to 170 bushels. Our worst corn has been harvested and I believe we will end up somewhere around 150 bushel average. For the slightly rolling hills of West Tennessee we are pleased with our corn.
I am very excited about the prospects of the cotton crop. As I alluded to earlier, hot weather with ample rainfall has led to a nice boll load on most of the cotton around West Tennessee. I have been defoliating and applying boll opener this week looking at most of our cotton from the sprayer seat. I see plenty of nice white, fluffy cotton already open and the bolls yet to open have me anticipating beginning picking with as much excitement! Yet, the pessimistic farmer in me has me thinking what will mess this up. As my father always reminded me, I better have the picker rolling when the cotton is ready, bad weather is always right around the corner.
Everything wasn't all roses with cotton, however, as it provided us with another lesson. The buzzwords around West Tennessee this year were "Target Spot." This foliar disease rolled into our area in early August with about two weeks of hot, cloudy, damp weather. In severe areas I saw cotton completely defoliated in large areas of the field. Since I had been applying some fungicide in years past and those treatments led to some of my best yielding cotton, I applied fungicide to most of my crop this year in the first and second week of bloom. This turned out to be the smartest (luckiest) thing I may have done, as target spot was very minimal in these fields. This was the first year to deal with Target Spot in our area but our University of Tennessee Plant Pathologist says we will be dealing with it more in the future. Great!
In August I got the opportunity to look at Monsanto's new formulation of Dicamba with Vapor Grip technology. Since it hasn't been approved for over the top applications a Monsanto agronomist called looking for some fallow ground in close proximity to soybeans. I had just finished cutting corn silage and had soybeans on both the north and south side of the silage field so this was just what they were looking for to observe drift and volitization. The results were very promising. Now if we can get EPA approval, along with BASF's new formulation called Engenia I look forward to having a couple of new tools next year to help us fight weed resistance.
I feel the first thing we need to address this month is how many days of rain we had for May? After we spoke last month of the old saying, "rain on the first means 15 days of rain for the month, " naturally you start counting days and wondering how we came out. The verdict is now in: 13 days. Just like April, however, it seems like we were able to work around the rain pretty well, and as June came in guess what happened on the first? Yep. It rained.
This week we have got the combines going after the wheat in West Tennessee. After the wet start to June, a few got going on the 7th and the 8th saw a full assault of farmers beginning their wheat harvest. The early results have been exciting, and I hope to keep having good results as we get deeper into the harvest. I will report next month on some fungicide trials, but it is too early to give much reliable information on the wheat harvest of 2016.
The corn and cotton to this point are looking really good. The adequate rainfall to this point has the corn really green and looking well. The one negative would be some thinner stands on wet–natured ground. Cotton looks better than I would have thought it would after the wet and cooler start to this point in the season. The last week has seen temperatures at 90 degrees every day and has helped straighten out some of the cotton and perked it up as well.
Summing up my June report, things look really good. Looking back it sounds like I may be complaining about too much rain, but really it has been just right. I most definitely don't want it to quit for I have been farming long enough to know rain and moisture are good problems to have. I never made a good crop in a drought. I hope everyone receives just what they need.
Spring is in full bloom in West Tennessee. During the first full week of May, Humboldt is the host of the West Tennessee Strawberry Festival. Last night we had the opening ceremonies for our 79th annual festival. Back in the day strawberry fields were plentiful in this area. Today, only a few are scattered around to provide us with fresh, delicious berries. It's going to be a tough week to get much work done with the parade route already lined with vendors selling all that good fair food and all the events planned.
As much as we talk about all the new technology and science available to us in agriculture today, it seems we still fall back more than ever on those good old sayings and folklore our fathers and grandfathers taught us. Sayings such as "Rain on the first day of the month means fifteen days of rain for the month." Well, it rained on May 1 and at the breakfast table where several local farmers gather every morning, there was a feeling we were in store for a tough month of work ahead. Before we could get our grub down, the 40% chance of showers for Monday turned into 1.5 to 2 inches of an all morning rain. Two for two in May! Looks like the Good Lord wants me to participate in this year's festival more than I was planning.
Looking back on April, however, the weather was very kind. We began planting corn on April 4 and Mother Nature allowed us to get the corn in without much resistance. Corn planting went smoothly, with rains falling sporadically and never very heavy.
We never rely too much on a particular hybrid. Instead, we try to place several hybrids that have looked good in the past on certain soil types. We had four hybrids that we planted a little more than others—they were DeKalb 62–08, DeKalb 65–19, Stine 9739, and Beck's 5828. We again planted at a variable seeding rate at an overall average of 30,000. Our high zones were planted 32,000 to 34,000 and our low zones at 26,000 to 28,000, depending on yield maps and soil types.
Four years ago we installed an in–furrow rig on our planter to apply starter fertilizer. It paid off that first year and we have been hooked since. We use an 8–27–0 blend with zinc that promotes early growth and root development. If you look at the photo of our check this year, you can see how the corn has come up with a better look where we applied the starter. This early growth usually means the corn with the starter tassels sooner, leading to an earlier harvest. Our checks in the past have also been 8 to 12 bushels per acre higher with the starter and a half–point to a point lower moisture.
Shifting over to wheat, I got Caramba out last week to provide some protection against head scab and some other late diseases. I made some interesting observations as I rode over our entire wheat crop. Two or three weeks ago, word got out that rust was prevalent in wheat in West Tennessee. As I scouted our wheat, I didn't see anything that concerned me and was told not to worry because it appeared to be variety specific. However, I began to notice small corners that I had missed while applying an early fungicide treatment. These corners or edges where the boom did not cover were covered with rust. It was obvious the early shot of Priaxor had accomplished its objective. I guess it's always reassuring when an application you question whether it's necessary really does pay most of the time.
After finishing the wheat, I turned my attention to the cotton planter. We are just beginning our optimum cotton planting window in West Tennessee. We like to have a little cotton planted in April, but by May it's time to get rolling. After seeing how well dicamba–resistant cotton did for me last year, I'm going to plant 100% dicamba–resistant cotton this year. I got a couple hundred acres of Deltapine 15–22 planted before the rain started last week. Now I'm waiting on sunshine to get back to planting.
I hope everyone is having a good spring thus far and we all have a safe planting season.
Just as easy as turning the page on the calendar, it seems we turned from winter to spring. As the month of March begins here in West Tennessee we have put away our winter coats. We're rolling up our shirtsleeves and getting to work, literally and figuratively, as temperatures the last several days have been around 70 degrees. That makes for a good time to get going with some fieldwork.
The majority of our wheat is coming along very nice. Since my last communication with you, I have been over our crop twice applying the first shot of liquid nitrogen and a herbicide, insecticide and fungicide. The last few acres we planted were planted toward the end of our planting window and then had a wet period for a while, so our stand in these areas is thin. I'm hoping the shot of nitrogen will promote some aggressive tillering, and the later planted crop will come on and begin to look better. All the wheat planted between October 15 and October 31 looks really good, and the temperatures these last few days have awakened it from its dormancy and it has greened up—very pretty.
Our wheat production is an area that has improved a lot over the last nine to 10 years. We used to grow wheat here without much thought to some of our management techniques. Plant it, spray weeds, apply a shot of nitrogen in the spring and what it made, it made. I guess, as wheat prices improved, we started pushing our wheat to make higher yields, and the higher prices helped us justify the increase in our expenses. For several years I put some experimental trials out with our agronomist from the University of Tennessee and saw firsthand the value of split– shotting nitrogen and an insecticide application, as well as the fungicide application. Today these management techniques are the standard, and where 60– to 70–bushel wheat was once the target it's now 80 to 90 bushels.
I hope to begin getting some burndown out very soon. We try to be planting corn on the first of April, so getting a good kill on winter weeds will help get us off to a strong start. My corn burndown program the last few years has been paraquat tank mixed with a residual like Guardsman, Degree Extra or Leadoff. I then would use a glyphosate product tank mixed with a Callisto and atrazine over the top in–season. The past couple of springs have been a little cooler and cloudier and this reduced the effectiveness of paraquat, so I am exploring a new corn burndown program.
The next couple of weeks look like a washout. Our 10–day forecast is calling for pretty good chances of rain on six of those days. We begin our calving season in March, and it has kicked off fairly well with the nice weather of the last few days. The forecast makes me a little nervous—calving in the mud usually does not go very well. The one bright side is the mild temperatures, so at least it won't be a cold rain with highs of 70 degrees forecast for almost every day.
I'm looking in my rearview mirror, and 2015 is almost out of sight. The numbers are in and tallied and all that's left is Uncle Sam confirming that while yields were above average, prices are not at the levels that led to record farm receipts around the turn of the decade. As I pause and reflect on 2015 before I close that book, I want to think about what was done well and what areas I could improve in 2016.
The latest weed–resistant technology, dicamba–tolerant cotton, was launched in 2015. While it did not have a label for in–season application of dicamba, I was able to use glufosinate in–season for control of Roundup–resistant Palmer amaranth ( pigweed) . I readily adopted this technology by planting over half of my cotton crop to these varieties. They performed outstanding and I picked my all time high–yield lint this past season and will be increasing dicamba cotton acres this coming season. This past week, China gave its approval for dicamba–tolerant soybeans, so I plan on adding this technology in limited quantities this season as well.
Palmer amaranth is the weed that gives us the most trouble in West Tennessee. I had a fairly successful year keeping this tough weed in check by layering herbicides and modes of action. I had a few areas where my herbicide applications were not timely or weather didn't cooperate with my applications, but overall I kept these areas relatively minimal. Late in 2015 our fears of losing another class of herbicides was realized as PPO–resistant Palmer amaranth was discovered, so 2016 promises to be another challenging year controlling Palmer amaranth. I hope the EPA will soon give its approval to BASF's Engenia herbicide as well as in–season applications of dicamba, so we can have another option against this troublesome weed.
Shifting gears a little, marketing our commodities has always provided us one of our biggest challenges. A few years ago— with a large amount of trepidation— we signed up with a very reputable marketing firm, opened a hedge account, and began trying to take some of the volatility out of our marketing plan. With the help of our consultant it has been a very profitable decision for us as we have been able to capture some substantial gains with our hedges. We are still learning the options game, so this coming year I'm sure will provide us with some lessons in this area as well.
I'm looking forward to our sharing of ideas through this venue in the coming months. 2016 is promising to be another year where, as my father has told me often, "Son, sometimes it's not how much you make but how much you can save." Technology and innovations are means by which we sometimes can achieve these savings while still not sacrificing on how much yield we can make. I'm hoping as we share ideas this year I gain more than I possibly could offer.