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.
Taking a prophylactic production approach really paid off for Shane Ryan this season. "I prefer doing a vaccination program instead of a rescue program," says Ryan, whose family farm is located near Viola, Illinois. "We do everything possible to mitigate crop stress. It's like setting up a good defense in football; you don't know what's coming at you so you prepare to defend against whatever Mother Nature throws at you."
This season, Mother Nature threw many weeks with 60- and 70-degree temperatures in August and September, when Ryan's area normally averages in the 90s. Additionally, drought stressed the crops; rain finally fell on September 21, the first in 50 days.
"However, our crops were green and healthy," he says. "On a 10-year average, corn and soybeans are probably 15 to 20 days behind our normal schedule, but our production program gave us additional time during grain fill that will pay off in test weights and kernel density."
Ryan uses a coordinated production plan that includes increased soil fertility ratings across the board, improved plant health and hybrid and variety selection. For several years, he has increased his fields' fertility ratings.
For example, he has gradually raised potassium levels. Ryan's goal is to have over 400 pounds of available K per acre on all fields. "Potash works as a regulator in the plant; it helps regulate water which helped us get through some of the drought stress on the corn. Additionally, on both crops we also use QuickRoots, a microbial seed inoculant that stimulates root growth by improving availability of potassium, nitrogen and phosphorus."
Ryan enhances plant health by applying fungicides on all his corn and soybeans, beginning with a basic fungicide/insecticide seed treatment. He adds Priaxor fungicide on soybeans and corn, and Re-Nforce K, a potassium/urea supplement that helps boost crop health during the critical reproductive stage. On soybeans, he applies Priaxor with glyphosate prior to R1 and comes back at R3 with a sequential shot of Priaxor. On corn, he makes a sequential application of Priaxor and Headline AMP at tassel.
"When it comes time to spray a fungicide, there usually isn't much disease in terms of gray leaf spot and northern corn leaf blight," says Ryan, who scouts his own crops. "However, the diseases show up 10 days after tassel, and by then, it's almost too late to spray. Again, I think it's a matter of planning to control potential problems and not necessarily waiting until you see them while you're scouting."Seed selection also contributes to Ryan's production plan. This season, his primary soybean varieties are Asgrow 36X6, Pioneer 34TO7, Pioneer 36P36X, Hefty 31x7 and Beck's 3153x2. His main corn hybrids are Pioneer P1197AMXT, Channel 214-45, AgriGold 6499, DeKalb 6487, 6434 and 6674.
Ryan's weed control program in soybeans was enhanced this season by planting 80% of his crop to dicamba-tolerant beans. "Our soybean fields are cleaner than they've ever been, and our herbicide damage and stress have been lower than ever on soybeans. Dicamba really cleaned up our giant ragweed and waterhemp that we've been struggling with; they're gone.
"If you follow label instructions 100%, dicamba is a fantastic tool to have in your toolbox," he continues. "We used just one shot in corn and soybeans: Status on the corn as we've had for several years, and Engenia on the soybeans. We plan to plant 100% dicamba-tolerant beans next year."
In soybeans, Ryan burned down a cereal rye cover crop with glyphosate plus Zidua PRO. He later followed with glyphosate and Engenia. In corn, he applied glyphosate to burn down the cover crop. Ryan used Armezon PRO, Sharpen, atrazine and glyphosate preemergence, and came back with Status, atrazine and glyphosate.
The weather affected Ryan's use of the Growing Degree Unit (GDU) calculator. "We're going to be on the backside of the calendar in terms of getting our harvest started, but I feel the slower and more gradual GDUs intake has probably increased our yield potential 5 to 10%," he says.
He relies primarily on commercial storage. "Our marketing program varies; part we put in commercial storage, part we sell directly off the combine. We also buy some back on the Board of Trade. We do a fair amount of options in terms of forward marketing and hedging on the Board of Trade."As harvest got underway, Ryan notes he has "seen a lot more ears that are 18 and 20 rows." He expects corn yields will be 12 to 15 bushels better this year than last year and soybean yields about 10% higher.
Prior to harvest or immediately afterwards, Ryan usually plants a cereal rye cover crop on about 70% of his acreage. It promotes soil health, prevents erosion, aids in residue management and gives him the capability to capture leached as well as organic nutrients. "We planned to plant cereal rye on 100% of our acreage this year, but we're so dry that I'm concerned with the ability to germinate the cover crop, so we might hold back," he says.