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Agenda full for ISU’s NW research farm

By Staff | Jun 30, 2014

THIS IS THE new sprayer unit at the Northwest Research and Demonstration Farm in Sutherland. Superintendent Josh Sievers said the unit has the ability to apply 10 different chemicals without cross contamination. Each chemical has its own boom The spraying system is pressurized by carbon dioxide. It can spray from heights of 18 inches to 11 feet above ground level.

DENISON – Contemporary farmers are interested in the “new and fresh” aspects of crop production and management, according to Josh Sievers, superintendent of the Northwest Research and Demonstration Farm in Sutherland.

As a result, he said, days are busy for him and Iowa State University’s experimental farm staff.

What’s more, Sievers said, it’s apparent that consumers, as well as producers, are searching all information possible on how and where their food products are grown.

On June 20, 50-plus visitors arrived at the farm as part of the Flavors of Northwest Iowa’s “Farm to Fork” Tour, sponsored by ISU.

Additional stops on the tour included the Calumet Hydroponic Tomato Farm, Brian Fulton Nut Tree Farm and Scott and Deb Koch high tunnel and aronia berry production site.

MAX THOMAS, left, of Denison, and Carlie Rhinehart, right, an Iowa State University intern in the Sioux County office, listen as Josh Sievers, superintendent of the Northwest Research and Demonstration Farm, in Sutherland discusses the farm’s research into various food crops during the June 20 Cherokee County Flavors of Northwest Iowa’s “Farm to Fork” Tour.

Sievers said the continuing interest in, and use of, cover crops and applicability to no-till farming is “a very hot topic among our producers.”

In addition, he said, water quality will always be a hot topic.

“The one thing about agriculture is that it is constantly changing,” Sievers said. “As a result, farmers always want to know what the latest is and what they need to change during this year as compared to last year.

“They realize their need to manage their various systems accordingly in order to be a better and more profitable producer.

“They are looking at research-based information in their quest for learning in order to make changes viable in their respective operations.”

This includes managing weather conditions, the soil, water quality, pesticide control and practices. Cover crops affect all four facets.

“We’ve had some pretty harsh rains,” Sievers said, “say 4 to 7 inches in a short period of time in recent days.

“You realize what they can do to the soil and the fact that soil takes a lot of time to build back up. It’s our most precious resource and one that needs to be managed accordingly.

“The number of farmers incorporating cover crops into their systems last fall was probably the most I’ve seen, and they found them extremely beneficial and a practice making their long-term crop production plan a lot better.”

Tillage options, such as no-till beans and strip-till corn, with cover crops is one question most frequent asked.

“We’ve come to realize managing such practices take finesse as every non-tiller will tell you,” Sievers said, “and subsequently consider that in our research here at the farm.”

The water quality issue and surface water run-off is another research priority, Sievers said The focus here is on nutrient leaching and run-off, and nitrates and phosphorus getting into drinking water.

Another of the studies under way, he said, is nitrate losses and again the impact on water quality dependent on the type and time of field application.

Producer awareness is increasing Sievers said.

“We’ve seen a lot of things revolutionize in agriculture – weed control systems, the increased technology, improved hybrids – with less stress that made it easier for farmers to manage their production,” he said.

In addition, “the use of GPS-guided tractors, with monitors and application equipment and field mapping, help them get better crop performance.”


Sievers said he expects drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, will play a larger role in mapping farm fields.

Use of the drones presently, he said, has been limited by not only cost considerations, but by “the legalities and liabilities” they create.

“Granted, some of them are nothing more than model airplane, but we’re a society that likes it’s privacy and it’s only going to take one person to ruin it whether they’re watching what their neighbor is doing, intentionally or not; or if it’s flying over a highway and crashes as a result of someone not knowing what they’re doing,” Sievers said. “It’s kind of like starting a tractor, just putting it in gear and letting it go.

“There are people well-versed and experts in the operation of a drone, and it’s important we make sure we take what we’re doing with them seriously and with skill before we use them and see them coming of age,” he said.

UAVs benefits to producers include field mapping, crop adaptation, pest verification and nutrient efficiency for necessary changes.

The potential is there, he said, for use of the drones when legal issues are clarified as a “good test tool” in crop research like that being conducted at the research farm.

The 280-acre research site held its field day event on June 18.

Joel DeJong, an ISU Extension field agronomist, summarized the current corn and soybean outlook.

An early-season field crop insect management and scouting outlook was presented by Erin Hodgson, an ISU Extension entomologist.

Paul Kassel, an ISU Extension field agronomist, discussed the research farm’s soybean herbicide demonstration plot.

Completing the day’s program was a discussion of road rules and regulations as they apply to farmers and farm equipment by the Iowa Department of Transportation’s Kurt Miene and field scouting UAV demonstrations by two ag businesses.

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