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MFA's 2020 crop trials provide valuable data for decisions, even without in-person trainings

Every year comes with challenges, and 2020 was certainly no exception. Much of what we do in MFA’s Agronomy Division was put on hold or altered because of COVID-19. Every year, our agronomists and product managers put together extensive trials that range from compari­sons of corn and soybean varieties to applications of fertilizer, fungicide and everything in between. This research allows our team to get first looks and evaluate products to provide solid agronomic information for MFA employees and producers. This gives everyone confidence in the products we recommend or use, because we know they have been proven in the field.

While COVID-19 concerns didn’t stop that important trial work, it did make it more challenging to conduct the in-person training we always hold for our employees and producers. We had to adjust. We hosted smaller group tours and produced training videos. Our annual MFA Training Camp was held virtually so employees could still see, hear and learn about our trials.

Though certainly not ideal, the situation provided insight about how technology now allows for digital training and information-sharing. But, let’s be honest, virtual presentations can’t replace in-person interaction in which you can physically see the products, ask questions and have conversations. We hope tours and trainings can resume in 2021.

In 2020, we conducted trials at two training sites. Our main location is in the Missouri River bottoms outside Boonville, Mo., where we have 20 acres split in a corn-soybean rotation. We’ve conducted trials there for nine years. Our second site, which we’ve used for the past two years, is east of Columbia and consists of 35 acres of corn and soybeans. There, we have designated six of those acres as corn-on-corn and plan to gain more data for this type of rotation.

These training sites give our agronomy team a hands-on approach to testing and product evaluation. As you will see in the results, this time we focused on fungicides and foliar nutritionals. We also conducted va­riety trials for MorCorn, MorSoy, DeKalb, Asgrow, Brevant and NK seeds along with seed treatments, fertilizers and seeding populations for corn and soybeans.

Beyond these two training sites, MFA also conducts numerous replicated and large-scale on-farm trials across our trade territo­ry. In 2020, we had 79 such trials evaluating foliar nutritionals, fungicides, fertilizers and anhydrous ammonia stabilizers. On the following pages are summaries of some of these trials and results of our agronomic research.

CORN HYBRID TRIALS

The MorCorn trials at both our Columbia and Boonville lo­cations were planted on April 20 with a population of 32,500 plants per acre. We tested the same varieties for each trial at both sites. A total of 59 varieties were tested ranging from 104-day relative maturity to 118 days. We tested 11 MorCorn com­mercial checks against 21 experimental varieties and 27 other varieties split among DeKalb, Brevant and NK hybrids. Due to data agreements, the information we can share in this article will be only for the MorCorn varieties and experimentals.

The plot site in Boonville was fertilized with 300 pounds of actual nitrogen in the form of SuperU the day after planting. The plot site in Columbia, however, did not receive nitrogen until the corn was around V5 growth stage, when we applied 180 pounds of SuperU. Even with the late application, we were still able to produce a good corn crop because corn doesn’t use most of its nitrogen until the V6 growth stage.

This demonstrates the importance of getting nitrogen on the field at the right rate and time but also ensuring that it is protected by nitrogen stabilizers to reduce loss before the plant uses it.

Most of our trade territory had a great growing season, and our plot yields show it. At the Boonville site, the top end hit 283 bushels per acre with a couple of experimental varieties, while the low number was an experimental variety at 239 bush­els per acre. In Columbia, the top end hit 262 bushels per acre with an experimental variety, while the lower end was MorCorn 3544 at 212 bushels per acre. Results can be seen in Fig. 1A, 1B and 1C. In addition to our training sites, these hybrids were tested across multiple environments and geographies in 12 oth­er locations within MFA’s trade territory. Fig. 1D shows a yield comparison for hybrids tested multiple times from 2015-2020 at these replicated sites.

SOYBEAN VARIETY TRIALS

The diversity in the MorSoy lineup reflects the diversity in MFA’s trade territory. The portfolio includes soybean matur­ities from 3.6 to 4.9 and seed traits such as LibertyLink, Enlist E3 and Roundup Ready Xtend. We were even able to test some experimental lines of soybeans with the Roundup Ready XtendFlex trait, which was introduced by Bayer this past year. Fortunately, XtendFlex technology was fully approved in August 2020, allowing us to harvest those plots and collect yield data.

The MorSoy variety trial in Boonville was planted on June 3, but we had to replant the early-maturity group 3 beans on June 16. Since XtendFlex soybeans were a stewarded product going into the 2020 planting season, we weren’t able to plant those varieties at this site because it had flooded in the past five years. The Columbia site was planted on June 1, but heavy rains caused poor emergence, and all trials there were replanted on June 17. The population was 140,000 plants per acre.

Overall, we tested 69 varieties including 28 MorSoy commer­cial checks against 17 experimental varieties and 24 additional varieties split among Asgrow, Brevant and NK brands. As with the corn data, we will only be sharing the MorSoy products and experimentals per our data agreements.

The soybean varieties were broken into four trials by relative maturity ranges. The trials include all of the herbicide technol­ogy traits combined, so weed control was maintained with a sound agronomic conventional herbicide program. Results can be seen in Fig. 2A, 2B, 2C and 2D. In addition, these varieties were tested across multiple environments and geographies in 12 other locations. In Fig. 2E, you can see a yield comparison for our commercial varieties tested in 2020 across those sites.

FUNGICIDE TRIALS

Over the years, benefits from foliar fungicides have been well documented, both from a disease control standpoint and positive effects on plant growth and development. Last year at our Columbia site, we began to look at the impact of fungicide by variety. We continued this study in 2020 by doubling the replications of corn and soybean trials. We applied fungicide in the VT-R1 timeframe for corn and R2-R3 timeframe for soy­beans. Fig. 3A, 3B, 3C and 3D show the combined yield for all of the soybean varieties for the untreated block and the block treated with Miravis Top. We realized a 4- to 10-bushel increase on the plots treated with fungicide. The tables for corn are not presented, but we saw an increase of 6 to 8 bushels.

FUNGICIDE TIMING

Continuing our focus on fungicides, we wanted to look at the best timing for application. In our trials, we applied fungicide on corn and soybeans at seven different timings, two at early vegetation stages and five during each of the early reproductive stages. The data shown is a combination of the three trials we have completed in the past two years. As you can see in Fig. 4A, for corn there is a statistically significant advantage to applying fungicide from VT to R2. Soybeans didn’t show a statistically significant difference, but there was trend toward higher yield advantage in the earlier reproductive stages (R1-R3).

SLOW-RELEASE NITROGEN & FOLIAR NUTRITION TRIALS

We have seen the benefits of fungicide, but is there a way to boost the fungicide to provide an even better return? Slow-release nitrogen (SRN) gives us that opportunity by working synergistically with fungicides, most importantly those with strobilurins. SRNs provide an efficient method of delivering low-use rates of nitrogen to the plant when it is being stressed, resulting in more gains at higher N efficiency. MFA’s own Gold Advantage Trend-B is an SRN with added boron, an essential nutrient needed during a crop’s reproductive stages for grain development. However, boron is not very mobile within the plant. When taken up early, boron likely won’t move enough to the areas where the plant most needs it. By applying Trend-B, we are not only providing nitrogen to help the fungicide in­crease plant performance, but we are also helping to provide optimal boron nutrition.

Proper timing is crucial to get the most out of SRNs and fungicides. We have done many studies with Gold Advantage Trend-B as well as fungicides paired with Gold Advantage Corn and Soybean foliar nutrition. The results have been positive. 

This past year in a large-scale farm trial, we saw an increase of 10-plus bushels per acre from a fungicide application. The field was also split with an application of fungicide with Trend-B, which resulted in an additional 4 bushels per acre.

Foliar nutritionals are by no means a way to replace sound soil fertility, but they can enhance the plant’s ability to use readily available nutrients at peak uptake to help produce a top crop.

ARRESTED EAR

While fungicides can pay large dividends, there can be some drawbacks if not used properly. When looking at when and what fungicides to apply, we shouldn’t overlook the importance of using the right adjuvant. Adjuvants are used in almost all tank-mix combinations to improve the efficacy of the pesticides, such as ammonium sulfate (AMS) with glyphosate.

The three main types of adjuvants on most pesticide labels are non-ionic surfactant (NIS), methylated seed oil (MSO) and crop oil concentrate (COC). Each has its own unique properties to improve the efficacy of pesticides. In general terms, NIS products are considered spreaders and help the spray particle to cover more of the leaf surface. MSOs and COCs are oil-based products, allowing for better penetration of the waxy cuticle on the plant’s leaves while also providing additional spreading of the spray droplet.

Most fungicide labels for corn recommend the use of an adjuvant during application—usually an NIS, especially in late applications that likely will be applied by airplane. However, the labels usually caution applicators not to use the fungicide with an adjuvant between the stages of V8 and prior to VT. Use of an adjuvant during these growth stages may stress the plant and inhibit kernel develop­ment, resulting in an arrested ear.

In this year’s crop trials, we looked at the impact of using an adjuvant with the fungicide, Trivapro, at the V14 timeframe in corn. We compared treatment of an untreated check, fungicide only and fungicide with MFA’s adjuvants Astute (NIS), Soy Plus (MSO) and Xpond (high surfactant oil concentrate). The data in Fig. 5A is just from the Boonville site, but we saw the same trends at each location. Compared to the untreated check, all of the treatments with fungicide provided some yield benefit at both application timings. However, in this data set there is a 15-bushel decrease when applying fungicide with NIS prior to VT as compared to application at the VT-R1 time­frame. We saw 3% to 4% arrested ear development in the treatments that included NIS at V14. By having the NIS with fungicide at the proper timing (VT-R1), there was an increase in yield when compared to fungicide only.

This trial emphasized the importance of understanding the growth stage of your crops to help avoid any unneces­sary side effects of applying pesticides or additives at the wrong time.

POPULATION TRIALS

We often get questions about soybean populations and what is considered a viable stand to determine replants. For the past two years, we have conducted trials to determine the impact of plant population on overall yield. Fig. 6A shows yield results from three trials as well as the combined average. The overall results show that planting at least 140,000 plants per acre pro­vides a yield increase compared to lower planting populations. The same trend is true in each individual trial result. Observa­tions of these plots indicated that lower populations actually promoted weed pressure because canopy closure was more difficult.

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