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April 2013 Archive for Ask an Agronomist

RSS By: Farm Journal Agronomists, Farm Journal

Have your agronomic questions answered by a Farm Journal agronomist. E-mail us directly at TestPlots@FarmJournal.com, and we’ll respond on this blog to provide an interactive dialogue.

When Should I Replace Field Cultivator Shovels?

Apr 26, 2013

Question: Is there some kind of guideline for when to replace field cultivator shovels?
Answer: Unfortunately, there is not any single guideline.  The need for replacement can vary significantly between brands, types, etc.  Your best bet is to check with the manufacturer or the product owner’s manual for direction. 
On Board Shovel Storage. A shovel storage rack keeps spare field cultivator parts on the tool rather than in the tractor cab. Read on for more details.
Compaction and dense soil may be standing between you and top corn yields by creating a barrier to root penetration and water movement.


Will Foliar Fungicide Use in Soybeans Pay Off?

Apr 16, 2013

Question: I see a lot of information about using foliar fungicides to improve soybean health and, thereby, boost yield results in the process. What do you recommend?

Answer: That’s a tough question as there’s not a one-answer-fits-all approach you can take for every situation. Here’s what some of the experts say: X. B. Yang, Iowa State University (ISU) Extension plant pathologist, says most soybean growers see a financial payoff from foliar fungicide use only in the presence of yield-limiting disease pressure. David Holshouser, Virginia Tech Extension agronomist, agrees. His research shows that foliar fungicide use in soybeans results in a return-on-investment only one-third of the time in Virginia.

The reason: it’s difficult to predict whether foliar fungicides will pay-off because the most common ones, the strobilurin products, are preventatives. This means they must be applied before disease develops.

"We’re applying a chemical to prevent a disease that may or may not progress to yield-reducing levels," Holshouser explains. "If there’s no disease we’ve wasted our money."

However, Holshouser adds that, given current soybean prices, farmers need less of a yield boost to make foliar fungicide applications worthwhile.

"If you can average 3 bushels to 4 bushels per acre over all acres (based on April 2013 prices), then a foliar fungicide will likely pay for itself," he says.

Yang’s ISU data from the past six years shows that precipitation levels may also help farmers predict the outcome from foliar fungicide use: "When precipitation was plentiful, more than 50% of the fungicide sprays yielded economical return, and more than 70% of the sprays provided positive yield."

For optimum results, Yang advises farmers to use a foliar fungicide at the R3 growth stage, which is when soybeans start to set pods. Applications at R5 or later provide a financial benefit, he adds.

Holshouser’s recommendation varies slightly from Yang’s. "Our preliminary models appear to be telling us not to spray right at R3, but to wait a few days," he says.

The timing differences may be due to weather factors, notes Holshouser: "In 2012, we received just as much of a yield response from an R5 (beginning seed) application as we did from an R3 (beginning pod) application because weather conditions were just as conducive, if not more so, for disease development."

Foliar fungicide applications at R1 or earlier do not usually provide a return-on-investment. An application for white mold control is the one exception. Yang says an application at R1 is most effective because white mold fungus infects soybean plants through dead flowers on the bean plants.

Anne Dorrance, Ohio State University plant pathologist, advises farmers to consider a foliar fungicide application for fields planted to continuous soybeans and no-till soybeans. These fields tend to have high levels of residue on the soil surface and are at risk for early-season foliar diseases.

In addition, she says, if the soybean variety grown is susceptible to disease, then an application may be warranted. Diseases that respond well to a foliar fungicide application include anthracnose, cercospora leaf blight, frogeye leaf spot, septoria brown spot, soybean rust, pod and stem blight.

Dorrance cautions farmers about spraying soybeans that are growing in dry, hot conditions. Her research indicates foliar fungicide applications can impact yield negatively in those crops and contribute to spider mite flare-ups.


Manage Corn Planting Process to Improve Pollination

Apr 02, 2013

Most farmers are intent on getting ready to plant corn this spring. But as you prepare, keep in mind that another very important aspect of the production process is the pollination period for corn. In fact, if you don’t get good pollination, everything else you do will be wasted, says Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie.

The easiest way to reduce pollination problems in any season is to lengthen the period during which your crop pollinates. By doing so, you reduce the chance that all your hybrids will be caught by a week of bad weather. A prolonged wet spell can be just as harmful as a week of hot, dry weather, for instance. During lengthy wet periods, corn tassels might fail to open and drop their pollen.

Diversifying the pollination window also makes scouting easier. You need to check each field at least once a week when the corn is pollinating. If you have 3,000 acres of corn all pollinating at the same time, getting through every field on schedule will be pretty difficult.


You can lengthen your pollination window by planting hybrids with different physiological maturity and different flowering dates. You need to know both, because two hybrids of the same physiological maturity might have different flowering dates. Your seed salesperson can provide flowering date information.

Although flowering and physiological maturity dates are important, always put yield first. While you probably already have your hybrids in hand, keep in mind it’s best to choose high-yielding genetics first, and then select other characteristics. Pick hybrids that fit your soil type, fertility situation, disease pressure and insect problems. Finally, make sure you have a range of flowering dates.

You can also lengthen the pollination window by staggering your planting date. That’s easier to do in areas such as the High Plains of Texas, where spring rain, frost and heat are less likely than in areas such as the northern Corn Belt where rain and frost can stall planting, and in the Mississippi Delta where heat is an issue.

Using both days to flowering and a staggered planting date is ideal. But if you have a short planting window, diversifying your flowering date might be your only option.

Resist the urge to plant all your corn as quickly as possible, unless you’re forced to by weather. Many farmers are equipped to plant their entire corn crop in about seven days, and that’s good. But try to spread those seven days throughout the optimum planting period.

Plan where and when you will plant each hybrid. Plant early-maturing hybrids first and later-maturing hybrids last. If you don’t, all your corn will pollinate in the same window.

Even if planting season gets hectic, take time to document any changes to your plan. You will need to know which hybrids are in each field to effectively scout.

Based on your long-term weather averages, you can estimate when each hybrid will start to pollinate. Clear your schedule, or make sure an employee or crop consultant is available, to scout your fields during pollination.

Early-season growth determines when pollination occurs. Early-season scouting tells you where to scout for problems after pollination begins, so you can react in time to prevent yield loss.

Here are several other good reasons to scout.

The possibility of another dry season makes it even more important to scout your corn crop early and often. In 2012, we could tell by the second week of July that some fields were not going to pollinate at all. Ferrie says he wouldn’t have thought that possible with today’s genetics, but that’s how bad the growing season was in some areas.

By making that discovery early, growers who had over-sold corn had time to react and buy back their contracts. Also, if you see a disaster looming, you can take photos to document that weather was the cause of poor pollination. The pictures will prove you did not fail to follow Best Management Practices by not applying an insecticide to prevent silk clipping.

It’s a good idea to notify your insurance agent as soon as you see a problem developing. That becomes especially important if a problem is localized, rather than affecting an entire county.

Block out time for pollination scouting. Summer is a busy time, and the press of other activities sometimes causes farmers to neglect crop scouting just when it’s most important, during pollination. Scouting during pollination lets you monitor silk-clipping insects, whose impact might be determined by varying plant maturity within a field.



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