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.
Grant House guides the drone over the family's fields on a sunny, early September day. It sends back images showing corn maturing interspersed with dark green growing corn–patches of corn in low spots that were dying–and bands of corn leaning where the wind had sliced through the fields a week earlier.
Corn harvest is two weeks away at this writing and the drone is being used to help prioritize which fields to combine first. The drone's camera is recording the aftermath of a horrendous spring.
It was a spring that started out with promise. The unusually dry, warm April provided perfect planting weather. By April 26, Mitch and Mike House, Mike's son-in-law Nick and Mike's son Grant had planted 95% of their corn with their new 24-row planter. And, another planter had already seeded one soybean field. The brothers were hoping for a little rain to help with germination.
Instead, the heavens opened and pounded the brothers' Atlanta, Indiana, fields with 9 inches of rain over the next two weeks. They received more than 20 inches of rain in April, May and June. That's more than half of their average annual rainfall, and almost 8 inches more than the average for the period. With the rains came record cold temperatures, including frost and a tornado.
Some corn seed rotted in the cold, wet soil; some plants emerged but drowned out in standing water; and others spiked and grew, but slowly.
Stands varied widely within the rolling fields. The brothers knew they'd get a yield hit if they left the thin stands. But they also knew tearing up 3- to 4-week-old corn in whole fields, and replanting, also guaranteed reduced yield.
They approached each field as a unique situation. In one they tore up the whole field and replanted. In others they drove the fields with a planter–dropping the planter where stands were thin or no longer there. Their GPS planter technology enabled them to plant directly on the old corn row. In the end they replanted 40% of their corn acres.
How did the replanted corn fare? "Where there was nothing, we knew what we'd get, which is nothing," adds Mitch. "If there's something there, the ears may be small, but at least we'll get something."
The decision wasn't as clear-cut where stands were just thin. "In some of those places, the replanted corn are now weeds–little bitty immature stalks in competition with the corn already there. In those places it's going to be a mess," says Mike.
Driving the fields during replant gave the brothers a good view of their Xanthion versus untreated test. The fungicide, with emergence benefits, was applied with liquid starter fertilizer over the row during planting. "The Xanthion-treated corn emerged quicker," recalls Mitch.
"We also ended up with better stands in the Xanthion-treated corn," he adds. That was confirmed by Melanie Burk, who hand harvested a Xanthion test plot before harvest. "The Xanthion treated portion of the plot harvested 4,500 more ears of corn than the non-Xanthion-treated corn," says Burk, the BASF Innovation Specialist for the area.
The hand-harvested plot also showed an average of 25,500 plants per acre emerged in day 1 and 2 of emergence, while the non-Xanthion showed only 7,000 plants per acre emerged. All others emerged in days 3 through 8. "That should translate into higher yield for the Xanthion-treated corn," says Burk.
Rains continuing through May pushed corn replanting into early June. "This was the first year I ever planted corn in three different months," says Mitch, shaking his head.
Those May rains also forced replanting of 10 to 15% of the soybeans, wiping out their soybean variety trial.
The terrible spring planting season forced the brothers to switch from offense to defense in their weed control. "We sprayed preplant herbicide on all our soybean ground in late April before the rains came, so the ground sat there 26 days before we planted," notes Mitch. "It was too much to ask the preplant herbicide chemistry to control weeds that long."
Fortunately the brothers had a backup plan–dicamba-tolerant soybeans. "We planned on only using glyphosate for our postemergence herbicide application on our dicamba-tolerant soybeans," says Mike. "But by planting them we had the option of using Engenia herbicide (BASF's dicamba formulation) on the beans if needed."
They needed it. With the residual herbicide wearing out and the late-planted soybeans not yet canopied, waterhemp began sprouting like never before. Marestail also showed up. "Engenia gave us very good weed control," says Mitch. "And we had no issues with drift. We're definitely planting dicamba-tolerant beans again next year."
Adds BASF's Burk: "Two tools that really help with waterhemp control are dicamba and residual herbicides. Waterhemp is a late germinating weed–usually showing up in July and August after most farms have finished spraying for the season. If you know you have a waterhemp problem, you have to put down a residual to keep the weeds from coming or you can't control it."
The brothers are concerned that this year's thin corn stands will set them up for weed problems next year. "Our early weed control was good this year, but the weather reduced our stands from 34,000 plants per acre to around 25,000," says Mitch. "Without a consistent crop out there, sunlight hit the ground in places. When the preplant chemical eventually ran out, giant ragweed and other weeds began to sprout and grow."
To get on top of the weed problem the brothers will spray a fall burndown to control perennials and winter annuals, such as marestail.
Another change the brothers are planning is to variable-rate apply P and K. "It will save us money," explains Mike.
They apply all their nitrogen in the spring pre-plant with a stabilizer, and follow up with a sidedress application. "Despite the heavy rains we didn't see nitrogen deficiency," says Mitch. "Flying the drone we found a pie-shaped yellow spot in a field surrounded by dark green corn," he adds. "It's a spot we missed during nitrogen application–and while I don't like missing spots, it confirms we didn't run out of nitrogen and it was doing its job."