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.
Warm and dry weather early this season raised expectations, only to be crushed by a cold and wet April that delayed planting. The summer was dry both early and late with cooler than normal temperatures. This made for a challenging year.
For all of the weather variability, Scott Wettstein remains generally satisfied with his agronomic experimentation. While tweaks are likely in 2018, his split applications of nitrogen, in-furrow treatments and reduced soybean seeding rates will be repeated. A blast of white mold when wet weather returned in early August reinforced the wisdom of a strong fungicide program.
"It has been such a year of extremes; we will have to wait for harvest to verify many of our practices," says Wettstein, who farms with his parents, Joe and Betty, and brother Brian near Lidgerwood, North Dakota. "We got an inch of rain after planting, and then it shut off for six to seven weeks."
Warm and dry conditions took the wind out of an in-furrow biological seed germination aid to help with cold, wet soils. "Everything came up fast, but it did seem like the treated acres got out a day sooner," he notes. "Harvest will tell us if it had an impact." All acres also received a treatment of a bacteria/sugar solution in-furrow with corn and ahead of soybean planting, designed to boost soil microorganisms.
Spring extremes reinforced the decision to forgo a fall N application for a split with 30 units at planting in a 2x2 placement. The Wettsteins had boosted the nitrogen from 20 units the previous year in hopes of creating a longer window for sidedressing. Regular nitrate testing with a 360 SoilScan indicated the plan was working … for the nitrogen. Sidedressing with 360 Y-Drops didn't start until V10 and included multiple rate trials from zero pounds up to 200 pounds (including the 40 pounds at planting).
"The plants were a good dark green all the way through, but we began to notice a potassium deficiency when it dried out," says Wettstein. "It was the worst potassium deficiency we have ever seen, and yet the soil tests' levels were in the high to very high range."
To prevent the potassium deficiency in the future, the Wettsteins are considering banding in the 6- to 12-inch zone where there's more moisture to move it to the plant. "We had gotten used to managing nutrients in a wet cycle, but now we are in a dry pattern," he points out.
He is concerned the 30 units at planting may not be enough to carry the crop to V10 in a wet year. Thanks to the dry weather, it did the job this year. Visually he didn't see a difference in the nitrogen trials, and he knows only harvest will tell the story on optimum rates. However, Wettstein is already weighing adjusting next spring's at-planting rate upward to 40 units to cover wet weather following planting or stay at 30 units and add an early season sidedressing of 30 to 50 units or even as much as 100 units of nitrogen (depending on weather and yield potential) at V5 or V6. This would allow him to top off the fertility tank at V10.
"It would add another level of flexibility to the program," he explains. "With the Y-Drops, we could place that early application right by the root zone for fast uptake, pull nitrates weekly and then pull the trigger with Y-Drops at V10. It would be worth the extra trip to capture potential yield."
After testing lower soybean seeding rates in 2016, the Wettsteins went all out–or down–this year, cutting rates to 125,000. Visually the crop looks good.
"With higher rates we would see pods every six inches on the stem," says Scott. "This year we are seeing four to five pods per node, three to four inches apart. With singulation and spacing every three to four inches, we are seeing more lateral branching. We have a monster on the shop floor with five to six branches on it. While it is pod count not branches that matter, so far our count is very good."
With a history of white mold the past five or six years, fungicide treatments in problem fields are a given for the Wettsteins. They experimented with some competitors to his proven program of Priaxor.
"On light pressure fields, other products can work fine; however, under heavy pressure, I need a Priaxor type product," he says. "With a higher quality product, you have the potential for protecting against other diseases like soybean rust."
Nick Foertsch, BASF Innovation Specialist, notes Wettstein got good white mold control, despite perfect conditions for the disease. He expects Endura followed by Priaxor to provide a 10 to 20 bushel yield difference to growers who had white mold and stayed with the program.
"It's surprising how good the corn looks in some areas and how uneven or poor it looks in other areas," says Wettstein. "We have more questions than answers so far this year. With depressed prices, you cut corners and manage nitrogen dollars as close as you can. But when you see some deficiency at R4, do you go out and make another application? It's difficult to get motivated to spend money when you don't know what's out there. Is it 130, 150 or 170 bushels per acre across the farm? That's the million dollar question."