Celebrating its five-year anniversary, Corn College events bring farmers to the field with Farm Journal experts
Even in a drought, farmers are thirsty for knowledge. For the fifth year in a row, Farm Journal hosted its series of Corn College events, which focus on reaffirming the fundamentals of farming and keeping pace with the ever-changing technology.
This year, more than 1,125 attendees from 25 U.S. states, three Canadian provinces and Brazil joined Farm Journal agronomists in the field.
"It’s a testimonial to the events that so many farmers make this part of their summer," says Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie. "Many farmers realize how fast our industry is moving. It can be frustrating—but good—to have access to new technology, machinery, genetics and more to fit into our farm practices."
Ferrie and Associate Field Agronomist Missy Bauer work to host events that turn those frustrations into opportunities. With a mix of classroom and in-the-field sessions, they build the curriculum around the Systems Approach.
Since the series began in 2008, the events have spread from the first campus near Bloomington, Ill., to include a campus in southern Michigan, near Coldwater. The trainings expanded beyond corn in 2011 when Soybean College was offered to help farmers seeking higher bean yields. In addition, each campus hosts a one-day event for ag retailers and consultants—those who serve and support farmers’ ability to raise higher yields.
From the beginning, Corn College created a fever. Fourteen "alumni" who have attended since the beginning were recognized this anniversary year with a special gift.
"After attending five years of Corn College, I always leave thinking how little I know about growing corn, which makes me want more," says Greg Goplerud, a farmer from St. Ansgar, Iowa. "Some of the biggest lessons I’ve learned have been on nitrogen management."
|With hands-on examples, Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie hosts lessons in the field about soil health and soil’s physical, chemical and biological properties.
Take yields higher. From July 16 to 19, Ferrie hosted the Corn College Advanced series of events, which focused on three topics: nitrogen management, soil health and the emerging threat of resistance.
"It was such a different year when it comes to moisture, and in a nitrogen program, the timing and positioning of product is as important as the rate," Ferrie says. "In our in-field diagnostic session, we taught how to evaluate the crop from emergence to black layer to know how a nitrogen program is playing out.
Positioning nitrogen to make sure it’s there at the right time in each growth stage is often tougher than finding the right rate."
Another key topic was weed, insect and disease resistance. In both a general session given by Isaac Ferrie of Crop-Tech Consulting and a breakout given by Larry Steckel, associate professor and row crop weed specialist at the University of Tennessee, attendees learned how resistance happens and how it can be managed.
"Right now, it’s important to have a campaign of awareness around the issue of resistance," Ferrie says. "We also wanted to provide sessions that showed how farmers can take the issue into their own hands by ensuring proper application of chemicals."
Fred Whitford, coordinator of the Purdue Pesticide Programs at Purdue University, presented on how to avoid common missteps and accurately measure liquid and dry chemicals.
Piggybacking on the measurement topic, Brad Beutke of Crop-Tech led groups in the field to evaluate sprayer performance based on nozzle selection, rate and pressure. The groups used water-sensitive paper in a live demonstration to evaluate how well the sprayer was able to apply throughout the different crops’ canopies.
The third part of the curriculum focused on the physical, chemical and biological components of soil health and how it is incorporated into the Systems Approach.
"In the past four years, we’ve talked about the three components of soil health, but this was the first time we brought them all together," Ferrie says. "Soil health is a long-term production consideration, and it’s important for farmers to understand that we can destroy soil health over time if we aren’t paying attention.
"Also as part of this topic, we discussed cover crops and how they can be game changers in stand establishment. Cover crops bring a lot of benefits but require farmers to step up their management," Ferrie says.
Despite the drought conditions that most attendees were facing, Ferrie says he was encouraged by their intense desire to learn.
"We knew that most of the states were in trouble. During our evening crop update, two-thirds of the crowd reported that this could be the worst crop of their career. Even with so many of them having damaged crops, they took time to learn everything they could for next year," Ferrie says.
|A priority is placed on providing hands-on demonstrations during Soybean College so attendees can gain a better understanding of yield components.
Michigan bound. The Corn College Fundamentals series of events were hosted by Bauer on July 30 and Aug. 1 to 2.
"The Fundamentals event helps farmers identify the weakest link in their production and what they should look at in their fields," Bauer says. "We make hands-on activities a priority to reinforce the fundamentals in growth stages, development and scouting."
The curriculum included sessions on setting the stage for high corn yields, knowing a good stand when you see it and nitrogen management.
"You have to start with a foundation—then we can put the pieces of the Systems Approach together," Bauer says. "Once farmers understand the basics of the Systems Approach, they begin to see how a management practice in one area affects another. For example, a poor job with primary tillage can impact planter performance."
In the field, Bauer and her crew used soil pits to demonstrate different tillage types and settings; in-field planter setup and performance; and plant diagnostics, with a focus on ear count and stalk quality.
"Many of our attendees had never evaluated stalk health like that before," Bauer says. "At the time of the event, we were splitting stalks open and looking for two nodes to be clean at the base of the plant above the crown. However, we found that many plants had only one clean node. The drought conditions caused early stalk cannibalization. The lessons learned here play out through harvest and how farmers set priorities for harvest."
Farm Journal Economist Bob Utterback was on hand to present his market outlook.
Other sessions included how to set up management zones to implement variable-rate technology and how to evaluate lime sources and their impact on rate in your fields.
On July 31, Bauer hosted Soybean College with a sold-out crowd. The timeliness of the event, given the drought and an outbreak of spider mites, led to in-field diagnostics that detailed the importance of understanding growth stages, stress timing and pest identification.
"At that time, a lot of guys thought their bean crop was lost, but in reality we still had some decent yield potential," Bauer says.
The general sessions built on the concept of understanding where soybean yield comes from by presenting information on getting off to a good start, establishing a strong stand and the yield components of the plant.
The topics of resistance and in-field sprayer settings were also included in the curriculum.
Soybean yield champion and Missouri farmer Kip Cullers shared some of his lessons on achieving higher yields with information he’s learned on his farm and in South America, where he helps with plot research.
"This was a one-of-a-kind experience," says William Pitylak, a first-time attendee from Diamondville, Mich. "I feel bad for anyone who grows soybeans and doesn’t attend."
Overall, the Corn College events strengthened farmers’ foundation and pushed them forward in their quest for higher yields. "In-the-field training is so important," Bauer says. "Our goal
is to help farmers see how to use the total Systems Approach in the field."
Thank you to the following sponsors: Corn College Advanced—Ag Leader, AgriGold, Agrotain, BASF, Chevrolet, ESN/Agrium, Great Plains, National Corn Growers Association, Novozymes, Precision Planting, SFP, Schaffert, Top Third Ag Marketing, Wolf Trax; Soybean College—BASF, Great Plains, MANA Crop Protection, Novozymes, SFP, United Soybean Board; and Corn College Fundamentals—Agrotain, BASF, DuPont Pioneer, Great Plains, MANA Crop Protection, Novozymes, Precision Planting, SFP, Top Third Ag Marketing.