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Extreme yields, extreme measures

By Staff | Feb 16, 2009

Harold Fick, right, of Callender, speaks with Bob Streit, crop consultant, Tuesday evening after Streit's corn and soybean production and profitability program at Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge.

Each year, reports reach producers of fellow growers getting bin-busting corn and soybean yields while their neighbors work hard just to produce an average yield.

Close to 25 farmers on Tuesday attended a program held at Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge with intentions of learning some of the new ways available to help increase their own yields and profits.

Bob Streit, crop consultant from Webster City, was the presenter and covered several topics that affected last year’s growing season and what to do to be more profitable in 2009 and years to come.

While most farmers are still doing just what it takes to grow an average-sized crop with average yields, it has just been recently, Streit said, that some producers are actually beginning to ask what things they need to do to increase yields.

Farmers that have been recording record-breaking yields are going to many extremes to achieve those results, Streit said. Many of the techniques they use “are really starting to make sense.”

Streit talked intensively on ideas for high-yield soybean management.

He first discussed the reasons for increasing yields, which included increased cash flow, maintaining soybean acres in the U.S. versus South America, and to continue a rotation of more acres.

There are three approaches, he said, to high-yield cropping. These include:

  • To look at it from an engineering/machinery standpoint.
  • A chemical perspective.
  • A biological viewpoint.

Many of the higher yielding soybean farmers such as Ray Rawson from Michigan, Streit said, are making more headway when they promote biological activity.

Streit said a map to higher yielding soybeans includes identifying and fracturing the compaction layer, get oxygen deep into the soil, fix soil profiles if they need lime or gypsum, meet early nutrient needs, identify and manage diseases and insects, and utilize a foliar fertilizer program at specific plant stages.

Applying foliar fertilizer at a timely manner and with the appropriate nozzles, Streit said, will result in a boost of yields.

Pink-Pigment Facultative Methylotrophs, he said, are bacteria that benefits plants in a variety of ways, including promoting germination, growth and yield. These are new, he added, and they were used in trials last year and, he suggests, in foliar fertilizer programs, helped plants to utilize vitamins.

Other tips for applying foliar fertilizer include applying the mix while the plants are receptive for leaf uptake, meet late-plant and grain fill needs as well as utilizing a sugar/fulvic mix to manipulate the plant’s physiology and hormone levels.

Sugar, he said, does 15 different things to a plant with only one being a negative.

A foliar, Streit mentioned, will extend the flower period as well as retain flowers and pods a goal that many farmers should try to meet when attempting to grow higher-yielding soybeans.

Traditional approaches

Streit said that one of the first things he will do when he begins looking at a new field is to test for soil compaction.

“Soil compaction is a limiting factor to increased yields,” said Streit. “And many more guys are beginning to pay a lot more attention to what’s going on in the soil.”

Streit passed around the room a digital soil probe he uses to test for soil compaction and in the end he simply knows just what roots of a soybean or corn plant will be able to do.

With the prices of fertilizer doubling and tripling within the last few years, Streit said, it is not a shock that many retailers are sitting on high-priced inventory right now. He estimated that a third of the farmers in the area have no fertilizer put down right now. A third, he added, have applied 30 percent less than the normal rate, with the other third putting just enough down for the 2009 crop and dismissing future growing seasons.

Streit thinks that one particular problem corn-on-corn producers may run into is with residue. Due to the erratic growing season last year, many fields went into this winter untouched and Streit said it’s going to be hard to know what to do with the residue.

Although he recommends making sure the residue is removed, any tillage in the spring may result in mixing it up in the soil and not moving it away from the where the new corn will be planted. That residue, Streit said, has the capability of grabbing 60 to 80 pounds of nitrogen away from the crop.

“With an application of 28 percent in many cases the non-decomposed residue will grab it share of the nitrogen before it gets to the crop,” said Streit.

Streit predicts he will see some producers go completely to no-till this year, while being aggressive with residue managers, or even go as far as pulling out their old plows and remove residue completely.

Streit then covered the many new approaches that may soon be available for farmers to apply nitrogen just when the plant needs it at a variable rate to more accurately apply the fertilizer.

Fungicides for use in both corn and soybeans have been becoming more and more popular ever since rust became a possibility back in 2004.

When it comes to applying fungicide on corn, Streit recommends not covering every acre you have, but rather figure out which third of those corn acres will be most in need.

He suggests looking at the variety for its susceptibility of diseases such as gray leaf spot, eye spot and corn leaf blight, for example. These will be the acres needing an application of fungicide.

Insects in corn haven’t been as much of a concern as they used to be, Streit said, with the Bt technology that is now available.

Western bean cutworm, he said has larvae that can be very active and said that if a leaf is 5 percent covered with an egg mass that most likely 95 percent of the ear will be infested.

Again the variety means a lot, as some varieties are more attractive than others. For example corn varieties that feature wider leaves are more susceptible for the moths to lay eggs. These egg masses, he said will be usually found on top side of the top four leaves making them rather hard to scout for.

Scouting fields, especially soybean fields has become more frequent mostly due to the soybean aphid that became an issue close to five years ago.

To help with scouting, Streit suggested farmers begin scouting for bean leaf beetles in June or sooner if they farm near trees or tall grass prairies all places where the beetle can “over winter.”

Mid to late July is typically when it is time to begin scouting for aphids and then later in the year continue to scout for aphids and other pests such as spider mites and grasshoppers.

Streit recommends a fungicide be applied on soybeans around July 20 or right before the rows close and before leaf diseases then become a possible problem.

Contact Kriss Nelson by e-mail at jknelson@frontiernet.net.

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