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.
Low margins aren't slowing Scott Wettstein's search for enhanced productivity. Wettstein and his brother Brian, under the guidance of their father Joe, are preparing for the next time commodity prices cycle upwards by exploring new products and technologies today. The southeastern North Dakota corn and soybean growers are pushing the envelope for their region.
"The big struggle right now is everyone is gun shy about spending extra money without knowing the outcome," says Wettstein. "However, it takes two to three years to figure out whether things work or not. If we don't try things now, the next time corn prices cycle back to &5 to &6 a bushel, we won't know how to add another 20 bushels to our yield."
Nick Foertsch, BASF Innovation Specialist, describes the Wettsteins as always willing to try new things. "They are forward-thinking producers who are always trying to push yields to the next level," he says. "They do a lot of trials with different products, and not just a few rows here or there, but 20 to 40 acres at a time."
Already in the plans for 2017 trials are some live bacteria and fungi in-furrow, as well as a new fungicide/insecticide, also in-furrow. "We had some stalk rot issues and some rootworm feeding this past year, so we may try some Manticor LFR," says Scott. "It's a problem that needs to be addressed."
Once proven, the new products will be integrated into proven systems. For example, they will plant 100% Xtend soybeans this spring and will use either Engenia, BASF's new dicamba formulation, or other approved dicamba post. However, they are sticking with a preemerge herbicide program on soybeans as well as corn.
"A preemerge program can extend your application window by a week," says Wettstein. "You may get by cheap with post only, but if it doesn't work, the rescue application will cost you more than a good preemerge down."
Beyond pure economics, the Wettsteins don't want to see history repeat itself. "If we treat the new dicambas like we did Roundup and try to get by with just a post application, we'll lose them too," he says. "We have to figure out how to keep this [herbicide resistance] from happening again."
While no final decision has been made on their herbicide program, a planned fungicide program is in place. "A lot of edible beans have been grown in the area throughout the years, and we have a heavy white mold inoculant load on many of our acres," explains Wettstein. "This past season we followed a two-pass program of Endura followed by Priaxor. With the fungicides and resistant varieties, we harvested 45 to 48 bushel beans. Where we tried a high-yielding, drought-tolerant, but disease-susceptible variety, yields dropped to 40 bushels. Fungicides aren't cheap, nor are they a cure-all, but you'll lose quadruple what it costs if you don't spray."
While overall systems are in place, by the time frost leaves the Wettsteins' fields, there may be a lot of tweaking to the systems. Many of the new ideas they try come from yield contest award winners; others come from Commodity Classic, the nation's largest farmer-focused convention and trade show.
"I go every year," says Wettstein. "There is so much to learn there, and you get to talk to the engineers and product developers about the latest products and equipment."
A conversation with a seatmate while returning from the convention three years ago led Wettstein to investigate, use and become a dealer for Conklin liquid starters and 360 Yield Center technologies. In the years since, the seatmate, Curt Livesay, Dynamite Ag, West Branch, Iowa, has become an adviser and a research referral service for Scott.
"He'll call me about a research study from Brazil or Israel, and we'll discuss how we can make it pertain to the crops we grow," says Wettstein. "He got me fired up to find information."
Wettstein acknowledges he is the information scout for the family. Once he has presented the data to his father and brother, they discuss it, often around the table with their input or equipment suppliers. Afterward, the three share how they feel about the idea and discuss it some more.
"Decisions are often neither easy nor fast. We all have to be in agreement, and at times we don't agree right away," says Wettstein. "My dad has the most skin in the game, and I wouldn't feel right doing anything without his say in it, but he's one of the most open people to new ideas I know. Since we started working with Dynamite Ag, he is always looking for the next thing that will give us another 10 to 20 bushels per acre."
With his dad and brother Brian's endorsement, Scott plans to push the envelope again this spring. They will be planting five bags of a high yielding, 112-day hybrid. "We know we will likely harvest at 30 to 35% moisture, but we wanted to try it," says Wettstein. "You can't be afraid to try stuff."