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Top 10 changes in ag: Fungicides and implement guidance

Picking the top 10 crop technologies in recent years is a task that can provide endless coffee shop chatter. That's the job Successful Farming magazine has taken with this series.

Last issue, cover crops were ranked number 10 and seed treatments were ranked number 9. In this issue, you'll read about a couple relative newcomers that are now mainstream for many farmers: fungicides and implement guidance

8. Fungicides

Ten years ago, fungicides were the domain of fruit and vegetable production. No more. In recent years, fungicide have become a bread-and-butter, corn-and-soybean production tool.

“Fungicides help protect high yield potential,” says Fred Below, a University of Illinois (U of I) plant physiologist.

Strobilurin fungicides work best when applied preventively. Applicators often aim triazole fungicides at infected plants. Strobilurin fungicides often are lumped into the preventative camp; triazole fungicides are characterized as being curative. In truth, each class can have both types of activity says Carl Bradley, U of I Extension plant pathologist.

In 2010, it's estimated 15% to 18% of U.S. corn acres were treated with a fungicide. Soybean acreage is less, but it's long been an accepted practice in southern states and is growing in the North.

When it comes to disease control, there's universal agreement that fungicides work well.

“The most consistent profitable use of a fungicide occurs when disease is targeted,” says Bradley.

U of I trials at 21 different environments from 2008 to 2010 found fungicide responses hinge upon disease severity.

“When disease severity was less than 10%, we saw just an average of .1-bushel-per-acre yield response,” says Bradley. “At 15% or more disease severity, yield increased on average 15.4 bushels per acre,” he adds.

Strobilurin fungicide products like Headline can have plant regulator benefits like decreased plant respiration and ethylene production. These effects can transfer into favorable yield response even under no and low disease environments.

Opinions differ, though, on how consistently this occurs.

BASF officials say positive yield responses from Headline occur in both low- and high-disease environments More than 6,000 on-farm BASF trials conducted over five years show Headline boosts corn yields on average by 12 to 16 bushels per acre and boosts soybean yields by 4 to 8 bushels per acre across all environments.

“Our data shows it occurs on a consistent basis,” says Paul Rea, BASF director, U.S. crop business.

University plant pathologists are more cautious, however.

“There are locations with yield spikes that do not relate to disease control,” says Bradley. “The point, though, is how consistently they occur. Over time, yield response is related to the diseases that are out there.”

7. Implement guidance

When autosteer technology first came out, Mark Hanna was a doubter. “I thought, ‘What a joke,’ ” says the Forest City, Iowa, farmer, who farms with sons Andrew and Philip. “What does a farmer need something to steer his tractor?”

Six years later, it's no joke. Autosteer is an integral part of the Hannas operation for planting, tillage, and harvesting.

“I wouldn't give it up for anything,” Hanna says.

That's typical of most farmers who adopt precision farming tools like lightbars and autosteer. Such tools have a number of benefits, notes Shannon Norwood, an ag management solutions consultant for Tri-Green Equipment in Athens, Alabama. Benefits include:

● Operate longer hours. This is particularly beneficial when weather threatens field operations.

“In fall, it's enabled southern farmers to get the corn out before hurricanes come through,” she says.

● Reduce physical fatigue. “Several growers have commented to me that it makes a huge difference when planting or combining,” she says.

Hanna concurs. “You can get done planting, and your stress is way less and you don't have any fatigue,” he says.

● Watch implements closer. “When planting, you can really focus on what the planter is doing,” Norwood says. “It gives you the opportunity at harvest to watch the combine head closer.”

● Increase overall efficiency. “If you aren't overlapping, it reduces the time you are in the field,” she says. This can free up time for other work or recreation.

● Cut costs. In 2009, Auburn University scientists calculated that the approximate 60% of Alabama row-crop farmers using precision ag technologies (including guidance) saved an estimated $10 million across a collective 670,000-plus acres. This was largely due to reducing overlap while applying fertilizer and pesticides.

Slicing overlap has lowered the Hanna's seed bill. Ditto for chemical, as they can order the precise amount of chemical needed.

“We used to have 10 to 20 gallons left over after spraying a field,” says Hanna. “Now, we are right on because we don't have any overlap.

“We put 20 less hours on our four-wheel-drive tractor in the fall season due to lack of overlap,” adds Hanna. “That's 20 less hours of wear and tear on our tractor, 20 less hours of fuel consumption, and 20 less hours of labor. I look at autosteer as a way to save money and to provide a return on investment.”

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