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.
The 2017 spring planting season has been in full swing and we are quickly approaching the end, we hope! Mother Nature has been a challenge for us this spring. One would think that after years and years of the same battle, farmers would come to expect these types of challenges. In our operation, we have a few fields with some tighter timber soil that we have been patiently waiting to become fit and planting will be complete.
We've begun our scouting for the year; all in all I feel very confident with the soil conditions we planted into as well as emergence rates and stand counts.
We're doing several "studies" this growing season at Ryan Farms. I prefer to see different products and practices on a larger acre base as opposed to just a side-by-side plot. We feel the data is significantly more accurate as we vary in soil types so greatly. Some of the studies we're doing include seed populations with and without variable rate seeding, QuickRoots (root growth hormone) on both corn and soybeans, as well as NemaStrike, a new seed treatment offered by Monsanto. [The nematicide received EPA registration in May and will be commercially available in 2018.]
Population is always a hot topic around our farm office, and rightfully so. With high seed costs and trying to raise the most bushels per acre, it's a double-edged sword it seems. Realizing population is very hybrid determined, we have tested every corn hybrid that we planted to some scale. Ranging from 28,000 to 40,000 seeds per acre, we are excited to see the differences in plant health, stalk quality, yield, and most importantly, return on investment.
Variable rate seeding is something we have only touched on in the past, but this year we tried on a large amount of acres. Our soil types can vary greatly, usually in the same pass through the field so it seemed to be a great fit for our operation to try some prescriptions. However, we are not 100% convinced how we should be creating these prescriptions. I think there is some validity to any types of maps. The overlays that were used to determine our prescriptions included soil types, fertility maps—which we think is likely the most important with emphasis on potassium levels—as well as our past knowledge of field production. We pushed to extremes on both the low and high sides of population, so most of our acres were planted in the 31,000 to 35,000 seeds per acre.
Again this year we used QuickRoots, a root growth hormone from BioAg, on a large amount of our corn and soybeans. Last year was the first year we experimented with this product and we feel the return was quite large for us. Soybeans offered a yield increase as well as some extreme plant health benefits. When SDS was present the results were significantly larger.
For corn, we're still trying to educate ourselves on the results we experienced, seeing a yield increase from 0 to over 17 bushels in some instances. The most interesting thing we found was the lack of yield increase following a cover crop and the larger increase in yields coming from soil that was conventionally tilled or no-till that had no cover crop. My gut tells me it's a sign of soil health and shows the true benefits that cover crops bring to the table, in particular soil health and soil tilth. Our best yields were on fields that had both QuickRoots and cover crop, and not necessarily on the most productive soil types.
We're also doing a small trial of NemaStrike treated corn. Nematodes are something I am not very familiar with; however, all the data and studies show they are here and are a threat. I believe Monsanto's claims that 94% of the corn acres in Illinois are at high risk from nematode pressure, and claims of 12% yield loss due to their effects. Those are drastic numbers. You start talking 12% on 200-bushel corn and that's huge. I don't think that those are probably 100% accurate when it comes to field results. I do firmly believe, though, that we have pushed our crops to some extremes in terms of yield and plant production. By doing so, we have probably made our plants more susceptible to all pest pressures. My expectations are not to get a 12% yield increase, but I do look forward to having one more tool in the toolbox to capture more yield and revenue per acre.
Our growing season has been awfully cool getting started so crops have basically emerged and have been growing at a slow pace. We have not accumulated many GDUs yet, but as we scout corn, we see that it's still putting collars on at a more rapid pace then it's growing upwards.
I'm a firm believer in applying herbicides prior to the 500 GDU point to minimize stress when the plant is metabolizing these chemicals. This year with the corn being a little more mature in its growth stage during chemical applications, we have decided to incorporate Priaxor fungicide to the mix. We have multiple reasons to believe this addition will be beneficial. Number one, in our experience we feel the plant health benefits of Priaxor have been unmatched. With the cool wet weather that Mother Nature has blessed us with this early spring, it has become a necessity. Knocking on the door of the V-5 to V-8 range when girth determination takes place, an extra shot of vigor and health could help obtain another set of rows on each ear.
Most noticeably this year with the corn growing at a slow pace and combined with our windy, cool, weather, I see several plants with torn leaves and injuries. Getting some protection on these plants is awfully crucial when trying to maintain plant health and eliminating the risks of blight, rust and Goss's wilt.
I look forward to our growing season here, always trying to keep an open mind and learn when using new products and practices. With the many different changes we have made in our operation—including products and trials—the biggest thing I have learned is to get out in the crop and study it. Everyone's fields look perfect from the truck window, but getting in and walking is where you truly learn.
I heard a quote, I think it was possibly from Randy Dowdy [Georgia farmer who is a consistent winner in the national corn yield contest]. Regardless, I firmly believe it and have learned a lot from it: "The best thing in the world to apply to your field to obtain more yield is your own shadow."
A very mild winter it has been here in western Illinois and I believe we are all getting the itch to begin some fieldwork. Our landscape has certainly gained some color these last couple of weeks including the fields that were seeded with a cover crop. Were currently implementing cereal rye on approximately 50% of our acres and the growth has been tremendous these last couple of weeks, I can only imagine the underground growth that we have gained. The cover crop practices have helped us continue to increase yields to maximum levels, every time we have a conversation about organic matter, fertility, soil health, and even weed mitigation it seems our conversation always turns towards cover crops and how they create avenues and opportunities to fix these issues. If managed properly we feel this tool can be extremely effective and rewarding, especially on varying soil types, fertility levels, and CEC levels.
Once again we preordered our BASF fungicide products to utilize the rebates that are offered. We plan to implement Priaxor on both corn and soybeans, as well as Headline AMP on our corn at tassel. The last two years have paid huge dividends on the acres that we have treated vs the acres of non-treated corn and beans. The mild temperatures raise a question as to whether infections will be present at a sooner date in the 2017 crop. Heavy infections two years in a row and mild temperatures put every acre at risk, including those in a crop rotation situation. I'm also a believer that Priaxor applied with our post chemical programs increase metabolism and increases photosynthesis on a young corn plant, a much more crucial time leading into ear girth determination stage. Some rough numbers, but if we could add another set of rows around and increase yields approximately 12.5% that makes for an awfully good investment.
Looking forward to the 2017 growing season we have decided to make the change and include Xtend soybeans on a large portion of our acres. We would have liked to witness another year of yield data prior to selecting our hybrids but we feel extremely confident with our seed representatives as well as the information we have gathered from a third party to make those hybrid selections. Herbicide programs are becoming more important with the troubles that have been posed via Water hemp and giant ragweed, in particular. Engenia will be used on our Xtend soybeans acres in conjunction in with glyphosate and Zidua pro for strong pre-emergence protection as well as season long residual. The biggest struggle we have noticed in our herbicide program, and I think it is safe to say for a lot of operations, has been spraying "4 inch" tall weeds. These products offer a strong enough residual, but we need to be in our fields immediately when we find pressure. Remember, water hemp can grow over an inch a day! Yield drags have been seen from 8-10 bushel in these high-pressure areas.
With the weather, I mentioned earlier its giving everyone the itch to get in the field and get started, some anhydrous has been applied locally, as well as some spring tillage work. I think it's safe to say as a whole industry we're happy 2016 is behind us and ready to start #plant17.