Innovations in the Field

Sponsored by BASF

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.

Scott Wettstein

Lidgerwood, North Dakota

Scott Wettstein

Blog Entry #9: October 13, 2017

Harvest Underway

The harvest gates have finally flooded open in our area of the state. Since my September blog, we received 5 to 7 inches of rain. The cool, wet cycle didn’t help us get any harvesting done, but should help to replenish our subsoil moisture for next year. Being so dry all summer was an advantage for us with this last system. We are able to harvest our soybeans without leaving ruts, and have only had to leave small areas of the field that have water standing. Farmers to the north and east of us have had to add tracks to combines, or larger tires to try and get through the mud to harvest. All in all, a lot of crop is coming off. We will be half done with our soybean harvest today, and some smaller farms will be finishing their soybean harvest by the end of the week. Yields are highly variable based on rainfall. Once all the acres are totaled, I would say it’s going to be an average crop.



 



 



 

We had our first killing frost last night. This was very welcomed. We are hoping that our corn will dry down some before harvest. The cool, rainy September put it behind, and the days are getting too short for the crop to catch up. Most of it reached physiological maturity in the last two weeks, but that leaves us a long way to go before we have dry corn. We’re expecting the dryer will get a workout this fall.

Hopefully we will have some corn harvested by the time I write the November blog, but with our year of extremes, I can’t make any promises. I hope everyone has a safe harvest!



 

Blog Entry #8: September 11, 2017

Farming And Fun

Time has finally started to slow down on our operation the last few weeks, but we're still managing to stay busy. We have mainly been focused on making some last minute updates to our harvest storage facilities and doing our annual maintenance checks. We have also been making a few last passes with our irrigators. Since last month's blog, we received about 5 inches of rain and had three weeks of overcast, below average August temperatures.

After this combination, the soybean fields in our area have really taken a hit from white mold. As you know, we planned for white mold, but even with our proactive approach, the disease flared up in one field. It's not nearly as bad as it has been in the past, but it's still going to rob some yield. It would have been much worse if we hadn't stuck to our fungicide program. I estimate some fields in the area have 25% to 50% of the field affected. White mold also showed up in fields that it hasn't been seen for years.

Cooler weather has put us behind for heat units. We're going to be lucky to finish the crop before a killing frost. The forecast calls for us to be in the 70 to 80 degree range for the next few weeks. We hope the predictions are correct because our corn and some soybeans really need another month of warm weather.

The early maturing soybeans (0.6 range) have really started to turn over the last couple weeks. We have some Asgrow AG06X7 soybeans that I think will be ready to harvest in the next 10 to 15 days. Last year at this time we had already started harvesting soybeans. Most years we get started for a couple days, and then shut down for 5 to 10 days to wait for other fields to mature. This year is going to be more of the same.

This year saw a lot of spotty rains. Where rains were timely, and we have later maturing soybeans (Groups 1.4 to 2.1), fields are still green and aren't showing signs of maturing anytime soon. Hopefully this means we're able to take advantage of the August rains and will finish the last pod set completely.

Growers in our area with edible beans have desiccated them. Some fields are already harvested, but the main push will start this week.

 

We were able to take some time off in August. We were lucky that we never had a late season infestation of soybean aphid. There were pockets that had numbers over threshold, but we only had to spray about 200 acres. We were on constant watch for thistle caterpillars this summer, however. It's a pest we haven't dealt with for many years. They were also above threshold in some pockets and had to be sprayed.

For fun, we spent one Saturday at an antique tractor plow down. We have a local tractor club that organizes the event each year. Once the wheat is harvested, everyone is invited to bring their antique tractors and plows and spend the day plowing the field. I'm not planning to bring plowing back on our operation anytime soon, but it's fun to get out and look at all the old tractors and plows turning soil in formation. It really is something only a farmer can appreciate.

We used our Farmall H that we purchased from one of our landlords when he retired. The 3-bottom plow we pulled belonged to my grandpa. Neither had been out in years, so it was a rush the day before to get everything ready. The morning of the plow down I was still trying to find a tail wheel.

As you can see from the picture, the rig held together all day! My dad, Joe, didn't think he would come out and plow, but once we got him on the tractor we couldn't get him off.



 



 

Other highlights included attending our local town's car cruise night. Car collectors are invited to bring their classic cars to town and show them off. It's neat to see our small town Main Street full of classic cars like it used to be in the 1950s and '60s.

Football is big here in the state. We attended the North Dakota State University Bison football home opener on September 2. The Bison won! Once harvest starts, we will spend our Saturday afternoons listening on the radio.



My mom, Betty, me, my girlfriend, Kellie, my dad, Joe, and family-friend, Tyler, tailgating at the NDSU Bison football home opener.

 

We have also taken some time to attend local seed and chemical retailers' field days. Last week Georgia farmer Randy Dowdy was in our area to speak. Listening to other people's ideas always gets our minds turning on what we can do different on next year's crop. We're excited to get this crop in the bin, and survive the year of extremes.

I hope to have a good harvest report by next month. Until then, I hope everyone stays safe during this harvest season.

Blog Entry #7: August 11, 2017

Weather Raises Yield Concerns

Over the last month we have been keeping busy with applications of test strips, applying our second pass of fungicides for white mold, hauling corn and starting to get our harvest and fall equipment ready for the harvest season.

Since my last blog, we have had some very welcomed rains come through the area. They have been very spotty in locations. Amounts varied between 1 inch to other fields getting 2 to 3 inches within just a few miles, and others only getting a couple tenths. It all adds up for the month of August. According to my DTN Weather app, we are ahead of the 10-year average rainfall by 1.05 inches. Overall, we are 4 inches behind our 10-year average for total seasonal rainfall. We really could have used a couple inches of rain in July. We went through July staying very dry.

This took its toll on the corn crop. If we had seen measurable rain in early July, I would have said with confidence that we have a nice crop headed our way. But now we have extreme variability in our corn field. Some areas will not even put an ear of corn on and others spots seem to have pollinated fine. The hand checks at this time are very early to make any firm conclusions. They are showing a range of 130 to 150 bushels in some areas.

There is a long way to go, however. Last year we did hand checks, and as in previous years we were way off. If we keep getting timely rain, the good cobs fill out and we manage above average test weight and could add a few bushels, which would be nice. If we turn hot and dry again in the next couple weeks, we will end up aborting kernels. We won't really know until the combines roll in 6 to 7 weeks. With that said, we are thinking we are not going to have the corn crop like 2016.

Moving to soybeans, I bet you're wondering why we are spraying for white mold if we were that dry in July. The reason we stuck with our two-pass program was because of the dews. For as dry as we were, we got big, heavy dews almost every night. With our soybeans in 15-inch rows, the canopy had closed and it was holding that moisture most of the day.

Also we learned our lesson after the 2016 season, when we were also very dry but also had these heavy dews and then rain. The white mold spores popped up when the canopy was wet, and it was so dense and closed that we couldn't get our fungicide applications where we needed them. After learning from last year's mistake, we wanted to stay ahead of it rather than behind it. So far after walking fields and finding the spores on the ground that have popped, we're not seeing many signs of white mold infection on the plants. I feel we accomplished our mission.

With one challenge under control, comes another. In a normal year we have soybean aphid show up the end of July into August. But this year we had another bug show up that hasn't been on our radar. The thistle caterpillar started appearing in July and since we were already making a fungicide application, we added an insecticide to those acres getting treatment. We have been monitoring the other acres and haven't seen any reach threshold yet. However, there are areas mainly east and north of us that have had to spray because the insect reached threshold. We will be on high alert for the next few weeks watching the populations.

Nevertheless, the bean crop looks good. We are still seeing flowers and pod set and they seem to be coming along nicely. But like the corn, if we get hot and dry again I have a feeling pods and seeds will get aborted. We are figuring on an average to slightly below average soybean crop for the year.

Most of the wheat in our areas has been combined. Many producers were surprised with their yields. Overall the range I heard was 30 to 80 bushels per acre and protein from 13 to 15.5.

I apologize for not doing a better job of posting pictures and videos with my blog. I'll try and do more of that with my remaining blogs. If you have Twitter, follow me @WettFarm15. I will try and post more daily or weekly pictures there.

I am dealer for 360 Yield Center and if you are in a situation similar to mine with corn being very variable, I would highly recommend looking into a set of 360 Yield Savers for this fall. I had friends running them last fall that said they saw as much as 15 bushel difference from OEM to Yield Saver on their drought stressed areas. I feel they are a no brainer on our farm this year. 360 has moved their yearly Proving Ground event to an online format for 2017. Contact your local dealer and get registered for the event. There is a lot of talk of four new products to help manage risk and push the yield bar even higher!

In closing, have a safe month of August and hopefully by this time next month we will have a better handle on the crop in our area.

Blog Entry #6: July 14, 2017

Crop Care

Hello, and welcome to another monthly installment of the Wettstein Farm's blog. A lot has gone on over the last few weeks. It is currently the 9th of July as I am writing this blog. Since I last posted my blog, we have made our first applications of Engenia and XtendiMax herbicide on our soybeans. I must say we are very happy with the results so far. We had excellent control on any weeds that were emerged, and so far the residual has kept the second flush of weeds from coming. We have not had any issue brought to our attention, or noticed by us with off target drift or volatilization as of today.



Side-dressing applicator

 



Side-dressing applicator

 

Many growers in the area have either started, or are in the middle of their second pass of herbicide on soybeans. Growers using the other herbicide platforms are also managing to keep their fields clean. They got the timing right on their first postemerge pass and have been layering in a postemerge residual product. They are seeing very good results so far. We will continue to scout our fields, but we think we will only have to spray about 5% of our soybean acres a second time.

We are starting to feel the effects of the drier weather pattern we are in. The last measurable rain we received was the 13th of June. This storm system brought damaging wind and hail to some parts of the region. At that point we were starting to show stress in the crop, so 1.2 inches of rain with no hail or wind was a blessing. The crop has been progressing nicely since getting that rain. We had cooler temperatures and stayed overcast for 3 or 4 days after, so the rain was able to soak in and has been very beneficial. It got us to the end of June with little to no drought stress showing on our crop.

We started side-dressing the corn on the 30th of June. We had chances of scattered showers throughout the entire holiday weekend. We pushed hard all weekend and finished on the 4th of July. We have yet to receive a rain shower. We have been fortunate to have had some heavy dews since then, but our temperatures have been mid 80s to 90 degrees, and we have had wind almost everyday. This has really increased the amount of drought stress we’re seeing in the fields. This crop season is starting to feel a lot like last year. The common theme around our area is "another week or two with no decent precipitation, and we might not have anything to harvest."

Once we finished side-dressing, we started filling our July corn contract at the local ethanol plant. They had a fire a couple weeks ago, so it has been slow hauling, as they are at half capacity to dump trucks.

We will be starting our white mold applications very soon on our most disease prone acres. We learned last year that no matter how dry you are at R1, there is still a high risk for white mold. Last year we held off and waited until we got rain to cause humidity in the canopy, and allow the disease cycle to start. That was a huge mistake on our part. By that time the soybean canopy was too dense to get good contact with the fungicide. We used 20-25 gallons per acre of water, and high rates of disposition aids. Even with all that, we felt that we didn't get where we needed to be. This year we are going to be proactive even with the drier pattern we are currently in. We have enough humidity in the air to still get very heavy dews over night, but because our canopy is still open, by early afternoon we dry out the canopy. We should be able to get excellent coverage on most of our acres. In certain areas of the field, the canopy has closed, so we will be watching those areas and our conditions for 4 to 5 days after our first application. If our dry weather pattern continues, we will most likely cut our second application.

We will also be scouting for insects in soybeans. We have noticed some feeding on leaves, and some soybean aphids have appeared. The drier weather should keep their population from exploding, but we will continue to keep a close eye on our numbers. We still want to maximize the yield potential of the crop we have out in the field. We are going to have a few very stressful weeks coming up while we wait to see what card Mother Nature is going to play next. By my next blog we should start to have an idea of the outcome of our crop. Until then we are going to continue to pray for rain.



Our new puppy, LJ, a Border Colllie/Catahoula cross

 

Blog Entry #5: June 12, 2017

Weather Worries

Hello again from the southeast corner of North Dakota. I don't know where the time has gone since my last blog. It seems like just last week I was writing it, and here we are on the 11th of June.

Since my last blog the days have continued to be busy, like most any farm. We finished planting all of our planned acres the 18th of May, and we haven't had a measurable rain since. That has allowed us to plant over 100 additional acres that haven't been farmed since 1993. At least that's what my dad and the neighbors tell my brothers and me!

We spent a week after planting hauling corn and soybeans that we had contracted. It was a nice switch from being in a tractor cab.

The crop in our area looks very good. Overall we are very satisfied with our crop so far. It seems like all the extra work we did to make sure we got it off to a good start paid off. Our corn stands are some of the best we have had in years. It was hard to leave the planter in the shed at the time, but we are very happy that we did. It all could change in a couple of weeks, though. We have had above average temperatures and wind almost every day. Weather like that can make a crop slip backwards in a hurry.

The wheat in our area should be heading out in the next week. Most of the producers are finishing spraying corn. It has been hectic trying to find windows to spray around all the windy days we have been having. Many of our neighbors are half done side-dressing corn. Many people will be switching gears this week and will start spraying soybeans. Even with limited precipitation, they got a month of control with their preemerge herbicide before it lost its punch.

We will finish spraying corn this week, and also switching gears to herbicide applications on our first planted soybeans. We will also be paying attention after June 21st to start scouting soybeans, so we can start making our first round of fungicide applications for white mold.

Heading into July, we will be busy pulling weekly tissue tests. We will also be pulling soil tests to see what our nitrogen has been doing, and then planning accordingly to start side-dressing with the Y-Drops.

The next month will go by fast again I'm sure. I hope we get some measurable rain between now and then; otherwise we might not have much to write about. We don't have to go too many miles from home, and the drought is already starting to have a major impact on some farms.

Blog Entry #4: May 22, 2017

It's Go Time

Hello again from Lidgerwood, ND. I am going to keep this blog short, because like many of you, I'm short for time to write, and a little sleep deprived. A lot has happened since my last blog post. We didn't get anything planted in the month of April. The temperatures just never seemed to get consistently warm. This made us, and other growers, uncomfortable to put anything in the ground. We also received a couple inches of snow the last week of April. The extended forecast looked to continue to be cool with chances of snow and rain. It was looking more and more like we were going to have to hold off until the middle of May.

But once the calendar said May 1, everything changed. We were forecasted for snow and cold temps that day, but the end of the week was projected to finally climb in the 70's and stay in the mid-40's at night. We woke up to no snow that morning, and it has been go-time ever since. Most growers in our area started then too. A lot of crop has gone in the ground in our area in the last 10 days. On our farm, we are 60% done with corn, and 50% done with beans. My dad, Joe, has been running the corn planter. Brian has been planting beans while I am field cultivating ahead of them, or spraying behind them. Nick has been rock rolling, and switching off with Brian blending and tendering fertilizer to keep the corn planter moving.

This last week has been a blur. It feels like a month has gone by. The rest of this week is supposed to be warm and dry again. This has allowed for nonstop planting. At the start, we were concerned about getting our lower ground planted before we would get rain. We haven't had any moisture since our rain and snow at the end of April. We are now rushing to get the crop planted before the ground dries out any more, and we cant get the seed placed in good moisture. We hope to have planting wrapped up by next week, but you just never know.




Photo taken April 27, 2017

 

 

Blog entry #3: April 10, 2017

The Wait For Warmth

Hello again from southeast North Dakota. Over the last month, we have been finishing up the last of the maintenance on our equipment, and getting all the data loaded into monitors for the #plant17 season. The frost is still coming out of the ground in our area. The weather has been a mixture of warm days, between 45-65 degrees, and cold nights. The nighttime temperatures are still dropping down below freezing. This makes it difficult for our ground temperatures to warm up. Looking at the long range forecast, we think it will be at least 7-10 days before a warmer weather pattern sets in, and we will feel confident to start putting corn in the ground.

Some growers in the area have found ground that they feel is fit, and have started planting wheat and applying fertilizer. For the most part, however, the countryside is idle. It won't be long though and the full planting campaign will be underway. My brothers Brian and Nick have started our field preparations. They have been picking rocks and cleaning up tree lines the last couple of weeks. We don't get a lot of time in the fall to work on these projects. Most years we struggle to get harvest and fall tillage done before the ground freezes. We take advantage of any extra time we have in the spring to get odds and ends done before we start planting.

As the days go by now, all the planning for another year starts to become reality. The lists and numbers on a sheet of paper are turning into daily deliveries of fertilizer, seed, and chemical. The excitement, stress, and anxiety of another season start to creep in. We will be spending most of the next few days, or weeks, leading up to planting doing our double and triple checks of all the systems. In our area it's critical to be ready to roll and avoid breakdowns when the weather decides to switch.

 

 

This is our Case Patriot 4440 sprayer. In the last few years it has been vital to our operation as we continue to make more in-season applications. We apply a pre-emerge chemical to both our corn and soybeans, in addition to our post-emerge passes. We also now use it to implement our fungicide program in soybeans, foliar feed crops, and side-dress our corn with Y-Drop. This year we will be able to map and record all of its applications with the FieldView drive. We have been using that system in the planters and combines to record our data. Having it compatible with the sprayer will allow for easy record of applications, and help us to know what products and applications helped our bottom line. It was nice to have some warmer weather to get it out of the shop and unfolded, so we could go through it for maintenance. This is a piece of equipment we can't afford to have go down.

 

Blog Entry #2: March 13, 2017

Putting New Ideas Into Practice

The weather in the Lidgerwood area has kept us guessing all winter. It seems like March and February have swapped this year. It now looks more like mid-winter than early spring. Last week the fields looked ready to plant, and today we are scheduled for 8-10 inches of snow. With that being said, we are relieved to have some extra time to keep prepping for spring planting. There seems to never be a lack of work to do around the shop. We came back from the Commodity Classic in San Antonio, Texas with some new ideas we would like to implement. If you haven't attended the Commodity Classic, I would highly recommend it. It is a great opportunity to see what's new in both equipment and practices. Having the opportunity to network with other farmers is worth the trip. Anywhere you go, you have the opportunity to talk to farmers from across the country that are probably planting the same crops you are, but may be using different practices. I think it helps to open up a new perspective, and get the thought process rolling about if there is something you could be doing a little bit better to get the next 20 bushels.

We currently have the planters in the shop. Every year when we put them in the shed I say, "next year it's going to be a quick in and out of the shop. Just check the disks and meters, update the software, do a diagnostic test, and we should be ready to go plant." Another year, and we have proven this theory wrong again. We have parts spread everywhere in the shop. We're making a few changes to our John Deere 1770NT 24-row, 30-inch planter. We have added Keeton Quick Attach Seed Firmers with the liquid fertilizer option. We had Totally Tubular prior to this. We are also switching out our Yetter screw adjust row cleaners for floating row cleaners with Precision Planting Clean Sweep. We are looking forward to being able to adjust the row cleaners from the cab. We have had drier planting conditions the last couple years, and have started doing more minimum, spot tillage in our fields. It was hard in the past to find the right setting for the changing conditions.

We are also in the final stages of getting bigger saddle tanks plumbed in to feed our 2x2. Last year we ran about 12 gallons of N-P-K of 28% 10-34-0 + KTS. This year we are going to add a little higher rate of N and K to our 2x2. We are planning on applying 16-18 gallons per acre, and need a little more capacity to keep the tractor moving. We also made another change to our plan after returning from the Commodity Classic. We have decided to bring back the old practice of placing 2x2 on both sides of the row unit. Some people have been seeing a good response from having the fertility placed on both sides of the root system.

Having tight margins this year has again made us pick and choose what updates we are going to make. There are a lot of things we would like to do, but we have to try and figure out what will help us the most this year. Hopefully we will have the planter back together by the time we write next month's blog!

 

Blog Entry #1: February 13, 2017

Recalibrations For New Trends

It has felt more like March than January in southeastern North Dakota the last few weeks. We have been enjoying the mild weather to haul grain, and all the while are putting together a strategy for the 2017 season.

Last year was a year of change on our operation. We sat down to do projections, and realized with the farm economy in a downward trend, we needed to do something different if we were going to make things work long term. We needed to reevaluate how we were spending every dollar. One area we noticed we could cut costs was custom application for fertilizer. For years we had done a full broadcast fertility program in either the spring or fall for our corn and soybeans. We based our yearly fertility program on our annual soil tests and yield targets. This system worked, and continues to work for many growers, but in a year where every dollar counted, we were spending too much money on nitrogen up front. We decided to utilize a liquid nitrogen fertility program to compliment our fertility strategy. This allowed us to hedge our bets. We wouldn't be 100% in on our nitrogen investment in November or April because we could control it later in the season. We applied about a third of our nitrogen 2x2 with the planter. We left the other two-thirds to be split applied with the 360 Y-Drop on our 4440 Case Patriot sprayer. This allowed us to watch the growing conditions and control of how much we were going to spend at any point in the season.

As the summer went on, we continued to miss rains. We got drier and drier as we moved from June to July. At this point, we were thankful that we had not spent the money up front on our fertility. In mid-July, however, we had an excellent chance for rain, so we went out and pulled soil test and analyzed them with the 360 Soil Scan and applied what it recommended to hit our yield target. As the year would turn out, the rain came at the right time and we ended up with one of the biggest crops we have ever had. The difference maker on our operation was the fact that we were able to grow more corn using less nitrogen in 2016, which helped our bottom line.

Our soybean crop was also one for the record books, but not without its own set of challenges. Most people would assume that with dry weather the risk of white mold would be low. We too thought that maybe we would miss it last year, but still continued to scout the fields throughout the summer. We received rain in July and into August. This created the perfect environment for white mold. We treated about half of our soybean acres with Endura followed 10-14 days later with Priaxor. We didn't hold the disease pressure 100% in our most disease prone fields, but we were able to preserve a lot of yield verses if we would have left it untreated. Some of the variability can be contributed to the different soybean varieties that we plant. Some plant types are more prone to disease. We will be aggressively planning varieties, scouting, and implementing a fungicide program again this year to manage white mold.

Moving forward in 2017, we're excited to try a few more new things on our operation. We will be utilizing the Roundup Ready2Xtend system on our soybean acres. We have been growing dicamba tolerant soybeans on seed production the last two years, so we feel comfortable with the genetics, but we are excited to finally utilize the herbicide technology to help us manage our tough to kill weeds like waterhemp.

One new strategy that we already have in place for our 2017 corn crop is fall strip tillage. This allows us to put our P and K down dry to save money by using a lower rate of fertilizer. Strip tillage also allows for higher efficiency because of proper placement. Also, we are hopeful we can implement this on more acres going forward to help reduce trips across the field, allowing us to cut fuel and labor expense. We will again put our nitrogen down with the planter 2x2, and side dress accordingly.

It's hard to know if everything in 2016 came together perfectly on its own, or if our new way of thinking really paid off. We're looking forward to implementing some of the same strategies this year, as well as trying some new crazy theories. We're excited for the year ahead, and to share our journey with you!