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Agronomic Insights for Your On-Farm Decisions
Swarms of farmers and agronomic experts gathered at the Colfax, Iowa, Beck’s Hybrids campus this week for a field show focused on the latest on-farm research, data, and agronomic strategies.
Echoed throughout the sessions and tours was just how unusual this year has been for crops and the economy. Appropriately, the takeaways were tied to practical, actionable insights that could be applied this fall or inform a spring planting plan.
Ryan Moore, small seed manager for Beck’s Hybrids, highlighted the value of cover crops and shared these takeaways:
- Know the difference between annual ryegrass and cereal rye. Annual ryegrass is a turf-like cover crop, grows well and has prolific roots, but is tough to burn down in the spring. Cereal rye (also called winter rye) is fast-growing, has excellent rooting depth and weed suppression, and is easy to burn down in the spring.
- If you filed prevent plant this year, it’s not too late to get out into the fields, do a burn down, and plant a cover crop seed to start building biomass and improve your soil health.
- Your planter setup should begin in the fall once you’ve identified your spring plan. Consider downforce, row cleaners, and closing wheels.
Field Level Nitrogen Management
Jon Skinner, field agronomist, gave the following strategies to help your decision making but warned, “There are no absolutes in nitrogen management.”
- To begin a nitrogen plan, look inside your field boundaries and identify zones to do further soil, tissue, and nitrogen sampling.
- Adjust your nitrogen rates depending on field elevation, slope, soil type, and water holding capacity.
- About 124 factors affect nitrogen utilization, but there are many you can’t control, such as temperature, rainfall, landscape, drainage, sunlight, biological activity, and more. Instead, focus on minimizing their effect.
Strategies for On-Farm Decisions
Jason Gahimer, practical farm research operations manager, discussed how to make the most of the time you’re given to do fieldwork, especially with increasingly variable weather during planting.
He says, “The question is, how do we plant 60% more of your acres in a limited time frame when we do have the ideal conditions?”
One recommendation is adopting high-speed planting, for which you need the right equipment, particularly closing wheels that exert the right amount of pressure at high speeds and also manage the soil density.
Drone Demo and Testing
Jim Love, light robotics manager, will begin testing a 50-pound unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) from Hylio in Houston, Texas, this fall for its potential to spray fields. He shared the following observations about this UAV and the future of drone technology in agriculture:
- “The industry has gotten the cart before the horse.” Love says one of the obstacles with wide adoption of drone technology is that an operator needs an endorsement or exemption from the Federal Aviation Administration before getting out in the fields.
- Love says a drone won’t replace a boom sprayer, but it could help with little jobs on the farm like spraying in limited access areas, identifying weed species, controlling mosquitoes, and taking soil samples.
- Some of the testing Love and his team will conduct will focus on flying height and scalability of the technology.
Crop Stress Mitigation
Eric Wilson, field agronomist, spoke to a crowded tent about the influence farmers have over the factors that affect yield, such as nutrition, water, and light.
While it may seem some of those are out of your control, ultimately, any decision made to protect the plant’s ability to do photosynthesis is supporting yield potential.
Wilson discussed the situational importance of making decisions in the best interest of your crop at key moments throughout the season, such as applying a starter fertilizer early in spring when faced with cool, continually wet weather.
Corn and Soybean Plot Tour
Miles McGovney, practical farm research agronomist and Pat Holloway, field agronomist, explained some of the field testing from this spring and summer at the Colfax location.
In total, there are 44 different studies on site, including some more out-of-the-box experiments like evaluating copper deficieny in soybeans and applying vinegar solution to soybeans to potentially increase branching on the plants.
In addition to the repeated message about 2019 as an outlier year for data, many sessions cited the fact that a 1% increase in organic matter results in soil with the ability to hold approximately 25,000 gallons more water per acre (.92" per acre). This is a key factor informing management practices, especially when facing such variable weather throughout the growing season.