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9 Tips to Consider During the 2016 Growing Season
By Gil Gullickson, Crops Technology Editor
With the help of industry and Extension crop specialists and farmers, we’ve compiled 16 time-tested agronomic techniques to help your 2016 crop be as successful as it can be. You’ll find the 9 steps to complete during the growing season below, but to see Part 1 of this story you’ll need to read 7 Steps to Complete Before Planting 2016.
Watch Out for European Corn Borer
Thirty years ago, a summertime service station stop included an elbow-grease squeegee wipe of your windshield to clean off the European corn borer (ECB) moths you hit.
These days, you’d be hard-pressed to find any ECB moths flying around. So are they no longer a pest?
No, no, and no.
“It is not going extinct,” says Kevin Steffey, technology transfer leader for Dow AgroSciences. ECB can still cause damage if you forgo an ECB-resistant trait.
Why it pays: “European corn borer can survive on around 200 species of plants,” says Steffey. “It is quite literally lying out in the weeds, waiting for us to drop our guard.”
Apply a Residual Preemergence Herbicide
“The best time to kill a weed is before it gets out of the ground,” says Luke Peters, Dow AgroSciences corn herbicides product manager. A preemergence residual herbicide can nix weeds from stealing sunlight, water, and nutrients from crop seedlings.
Weather risk exists. Dry weather can halt activation, while rampant rainfall can wash preemergence herbicides out of the weed seed germination zone. Applying a preemergence residual herbicide also adds an extra $15 to $25 per acre in costs.
Why it pays: Rather than a cost, though, think of it as an investment. Trial data compiled by Purdue and Ohio State University shows adding a preemergence herbicide to a postemergence glyphosate pass boosted soybean yields 4 to 9 bushels per acre. Even with $8-per-bushel soybeans, the $32- to $72-per-acre gain more than paid for preemergence herbicide application.
Stop Reapplying an Ineffective Postemergence Herbicide.
There’s a football cheer that goes, “Hit ’em again, hit ’em again, harder, harder.”
That cheer may light a fuse under a lazy middle linebacker, but it’s lousy advice for applying an ineffective postemergence herbicide.
“If it didn’t work the first time, it’s not going to work the second time when weeds are even bigger,” says Dawn Refsell, Valent’s manager of field development for the Midwest commercial unit. “Applicators will think, ‘Well, I did something wrong, I better apply it a second time.’ ”
Around 90% of weed samples submitted to the University of Illinois (U of I) in 2014 were confirmed as resisting at least one herbicide. The 2015 results hadn’t been compiled at press time. Still, the sheer number of 1,700 waterhemp samples from 338 fields submitted this year suggests weed resistance hasn’t slowed, says Aaron Hager, U of I Extension weed specialist.
Why it pays: Poor performance may be due to environmental conditions during application. Still, there’s a good chance surviving weeds resisted the initial postemergence herbicide you applied. “If the postemergence herbicide fails, try something different like tank-mixing and using herbicides with effective sites of action. Don’t plan for failure,” says Refsell.
Knock Down Weeds Before They Go To Seed
Weed resistance doesn’t start as a train wreck of soybean-choking waterhemp. Instead, scattered patches or single weeds surface later in the growing season. “If you see this, you need to do something,” says Mike Owen, ISU Extension weed specialist. “It shows resistance is evolving and spreading.”
Don’t let them go through your combine. “There is no better piece of equipment to distribute weeds than a combine,” says Owen.
Instead, clean them up before harvest. “If you have waterhemp in a low spot or prevented-planted acres, get out and hand-rouge them or use a backpack sprayer,” says Ryan Rector, Roundup technology development manager at Monsanto. “The key is to control those weeds before they set seed for next year.”
Why it pays: Next year’s crop – and you – will see the equivalent of 250,000 upraised middle fingers if a waterhemp plant escapes control. That’s how many seeds one waterhemp plant can shed at season’s end.
Keep Out of Wet Fields
“I have seen numerous instances where tillage passes made on wet soils led to horizontal compaction layers,” says A.J. Woodyard, BASF technical crop production specialist. “That can negatively affect everything for the rest of the year.”
It’s understandable why this occurs. If the 10-day forecast shows continual rain, fieldwork often wins.
Still, expect congested and shallow roots that fail to penetrate compacted hardpan if fieldwork occurs under excessively wet conditions.
Why it pays: Once compacted hardpan results, a crop can’t recover, says Woodyard.
Don’t Delay Soybean Planting for Warmer Soils
You might have to don your long johns and keep a thermos full of coffee handy for this one. That’s because if fields are fit to work, you can likely plant soybeans earlier than you think.
“Time and time again, the best time to plant soybeans in central Illinois is late April to early May,” says Woodyard.
Compared with a mid-May to early June time frame, this planting window consistently adds 7 to 10 bushels per acre in yield, says Woodyard.
ISU research echoes this. A 2004 ISU study in southern Iowa found yield potential started declining as early as May 1. No-till was particularly prone to yield declines, as yields fell by .3 bushels per day from May 1 through May 15.
“Growing high-yielding soybeans is all about light capture,” says Woodyard. “The more light you can capture, the more soybeans will yield.”
Why it pays: Provided soils are fit to plant, early planting can glean more soybeans come fall, says Woodyard.
Set Your Combine Properly
You’ll never have zero corn passing through your combine. Still, you can come close. American Society of Agricultural Engineer standards state 1% is the maximum acceptable threshing loss for corn and soybeans.
“We know from experience that some combines in good standing crop have losses of under .5 bushel an acre. I say a good goal is to get under 1 bushel an acre,” says Mark Hanna, an ISU Extension agricultural engineer.
This can also save you from treating herbicide-resistant volunteer corn the next year.
“[Roundup Ready] volunteer corn might be the number-one resistant weed in some areas,” reminds Ryan Wolf, a WinField agronomist.
Why it pays: Besides reducing harvest losses, a properly adjusted combine doesn’t seed volunteer corn for the next year. South Dakota State University research shows volunteer corn can cut corn yields up to 13% and soybean yields up to 54%.
Scrutinize Your N Applications
Emerson Nafziger, U of I Extension agronomist, believes one of the larger agronomic errors results from using input rates that are unlikely to maximize returns.
“One of the largest of these is use of too much nitrogen (N) fertilizer, which stems from the persistent notion that high yields aren’t possible without high N rates,” he says. “Many still believe that they can’t possibly produce more than 1 bushel of corn for each pound of N applied.”
Why it pays: Nafziger cites a 2015 central Illinois on-farm strip trial in which the highest N rate used was 232 pounds per acre. The optimal N rate, though – which produced 269 bushels per of corn – was 147 pounds per acre.
Take Your Time
This doesn’t relate to any input or strategy, but it is directed at you. Sure, it’s important to be timely with field operations and in devising your agronomic strategies. Think them through, though. Hurrying through them can hurt you in 2016 and beyond.
“This is not a race,” says Brett Barnard, a Winfield regional sales manager. “One of Bob Beck’s (WinField regional agronomist) lines is that the sins of planting live throughout the year.”
This also applies to other field operations. “There’s a belief that bigger is always better, that it’s about how many acres you can get across as quickly as you can,” Barnard says. “That’s why we say take your time and think things through during the growing season.”
Why it pays: Thinking clearly and not hurrying can help prevent costly agronomic errors, says Barnard.