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XtremeAg farmers share desiccation tips, 2022 challenges, and lessons learned

Farmers enthusiastically filled the Main Stage seats at the 2022 Commodity Classic held in New Orleans, Louisiana, last week to hear a panel of three farmers from the XtremeAg team. Matt Miles, Kevin Matthews, and Kelly Garrett shared their tips for soybean desiccation, challenges with 2022 inputs, and a few lessons they’ve learned the hard way.

Soybean Desiccation

Matt Miles raises corn, soybeans, cotton, rice, peanuts, and wheat in McGehee, Arkansas. With so many crops to manage, time is of the essence. For years, Miles has used soybean desiccation for more control over the harvest window. He first adopted the practice for stay-green varieties, but now desiccates nearly all his soybeans. Miles says it’s as much of an art as it is a science.

“Basically, we’re killing the plant. We still have stock strength, but your pods are mature, and the moisture goes down, giving you combine efficiency,” Miles explains.

A crowd of farmers gathered to hear from three XtremeAg farmers at the 2022 Commodity Classic
Photo credit: XtremeAg

About five years ago, Kevin Matthews tried desiccating for the first time on his North Carolina farm. He’d heard from a researcher at Pioneer there was about a 5-bushel pick-up. Plus, between hurricanes and farming close to the river, the sooner he can get soybeans out of the field, the better.

When the membranes are fully separated from the soybean itself within the pod in the top five nodes of the plant, it’s time to desiccate. “Those nodes are typically the last to mature, so you want to make sure they’re right,” Matthews says.

While you’ve got an eye on the plants, keep your other eye on the weather. Think about how much you can get harvested in a day. “The weather is the mistake I’ve made,” Matthews admits. “I’ll get tunnel vision. I’ll forget about my harvest interval, depending on which one of the products I choose. Some are two weeks, 21 days, some less. It also depends how green they are. The weather can change so fast, you really have to pay attention to the forecast.”

After meeting Miles and Matthews through XtremeAg, Kelly Garrett decided to try desiccation on his Iowa farm. He worked closely with his agronomist and Miles to try it for the first time in 2020.

“It’s one of the three biggest things I’ve done to make me successful over my farming career,” Garrett says. “We started harvest on Labor Day and were done harvesting soybeans on September 27, before a lot of my neighbors had started.”

By moving his harvest window ahead, Garret says he got a better basis, there were no trucks in line at the elevator, and he was able to get cover crops in the ground sooner, resulting in better germination.

The harvesting experience is better too, he adds. “There’s less maintenance on the combine. It takes less fuel. It’s tremendous,” Garrett says.

Panel of XtremeAg team and Natalina Sents Bausch at Commodity Classic 2022
Photo credit: XtremeAg

2022 Inputs

From fertilizer to fuel and machinery, it’s no secret that inputs for the growing season ahead have been a challenge.

After changing his plans for fertilizer and fungicide three times, Garrett decided it was important to get everything he needed on the farm – now. He wasn’t comfortable depending on someone else to deliver it during the growing season. 

“The minute you can get ahold of a product, you need to be able to get it in your possession,” Matthews says. “It’s not the year to try to shop around. If you’ve got somebody you can depend on, and will get the product to you, and you can help them and take it, work something out. Do not turn anything down.”

Miles echoed his teammates. He prides himself on planning ahead, but even with good plans, he wasn’t spared from the supply chain shake-up. In January, a supplier called him and said they were only going to be able to fulfill 30% of his order, forcing his farm’s team to scramble to replace the product at a much higher price.

“Even if you are quick and making good reactions, you better have that product in your hand,” Miles says.

Lessons learned the hard way

During their time on stage, each of the panelists emphasized how much he learned from the others and the value of sharing knowledge. Miles said he wouldn’t want to farm without the team he’s surrounded himself with. “I’ve made more money listening to these guys (XtremeAg peers) and Rob.”

However, failure is also a powerful teacher. Each of the farmers wrapped up the panel sharing something he’d tried on his farm and won’t be doing again.

Last season Garrett and his son were excited about planting 15-inch corn and increasing the box around the plant, thinking it would yield more. Turns out, “it was a jungle out there. It was impossible to combine,” he laughs. “Usually everybody wants to run the combine. Running the grain cart was really popular when we were in that 15-inch corn.”

Miles said, “I’m not going to cut wet beans and put them in a big grain bin either. That didn’t work that well.”

“I will never not desiccate,” Garrett added.

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