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Selecting seed is no simple decision

Though it may seem too early to start thinking about seed decisions when this year’s crops are still growing, there are advantages to getting a headstart. Making plans now can give you time to do your homework and help ensure you get the products you want down the road.
CameronCameron Horine - Director of Seed This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

What brand, hybrid and variety of corn and soybeans to plant is one of the biggest decisions that must be made every year. Unfortunately, it’s not always as easy as just saying, “I want to go with Brand X and Hybrid Y for all of my corn acres” and then moving on from that choice. Emotion, past experiences, logic and goals all play a part in making that selection. Those factors are complicated by the fact that technologies and traits seem to change every year, and new hybrids and varieties are always entering the market. Growers have ever-evolving options from which to choose.

How do you sift through all those layers and rationalize seed decisions? Here are some things growers should be weighing when considering their needs:

• Yield potential: This is the first thing that comes to my mind when choosing seed, and, generally speaking, this is the most important factor for all growers. You should assess the performance of a hybrid or variety across multiple locations and years. However, you can’t just look at bushels per acre. It’s crucial to understand that seed products vary in their yield potential based on specific soil types, climate conditions and management.

• Maturity and harvestability: Is planting and harvest timing important to you? Do you need to begin harvest early and be done by football season or before the weather turns? Are you aiming to have corn pollination complete before the high heat and “normal” slump of rain in mid-summer? Do you want strong corn stalks that will stand late so you can harvest soybeans first? How do you want to space out your portfolio? Answers to all of those questions should factor into your decision.

• Herbicide and trait technology: What herbicide technologies are you planning to use? Do you want to be on the Enlist platform or the Xtend platform? Do you need glufosinate-tolerant corn? There are also drought tolerance and nitrogen efficiency among other traits now coming to the market.

• Disease and pest resistance: A key factor in successful crop production is having varieties with the ability to resist or tolerate various diseases and pests that can reduce yield and seed quality. Do you need a hybrid or variety that has resistance or tolerance to major threats in your region, including corn rootworm, corn earworm, tar spot, soybean cyst nematode, frogeye leaf spot or other fungal and bacterial diseases? Again, you must take these characteristics seriously when making seed selections.

• Brand loyalty and reputation: Are you more willing to only purchase a national brand? Do you prefer a local/regional brand that is more adapted?

I know this isn’t an exhaustive list of considerations that go into selecting the seed products that work best on your farm. Fortunately, MFA can help make these decisions easier and support your seed needs. With our own MorCorn and MorSoy lineups, we have locally adapted corn hybrids and soybean varieties that are tested and selected to fit our trade territory while delivering premier genetics. We also provide national seed brands, including Dekalb, Asgrow, NK and Brevant, for your corn and soybean needs as well. Our key account managers and retail location managers will help design the best seed portfolio for your needs to make your growing season successful.

Along with building a customized seed portfolio, we can provide other inputs, such as plant food and crop protection, to ensure that the seed you plant is given the best opportunity to reach its yield potential.

If you have any questions about your seed needs for the 2025 growing season, please contact your local MFA.

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Don’t let new diseases distract from old threats

Tar spot has been the hot disease topic in recent years and for good reason. It is a new threat that can cause devastating yield losses in corn.
However, with an important new disease on the loose, it can be easy to forget about others we’ve managed for in the past.

KevinMoore                       Kevin Moore
              Senior staff agronomist
Think about it this way. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we tended to focus on that disease and forget other things necessary for good health, such as exercising and eating nutritious foods. So, while focused on keeping COVID at bay, we lost sight of other health issues. While tar spot is proving to be something we need to manage, let’s not forget about other important corn diseases.

Good disease management begins with planting. The standard corn seed treatment package does a great job of protecting the crop from early-season diseases such as seedling rots, blights and damping off. Keep in mind, however, that planting into good conditions is necessary to give corn the best chance of coming up quickly and evenly, which gives pathogens less time to take hold. Another strategic management practice is adding a fungicide to the in-crop herbicide application around V5. Corn begins determining its yield potential at V6 when the number of ear rows is established, so protecting against early-
season foliar diseases like anthracnose will help that yield potential.

The reproductive stages are the most important time to keep the plants healthy and disease-free. Our most devastating diseases, such as tar spot, rob the corn crop of green foliage during these stages. Gray leaf spot and northern corn leaf blight have typically been the main foliar diseases of concern. They tend to be first seen around tasseling, and lesions continue to develop through the rest of the season. We recommend applying a fungicide with multiple modes of action around VT (full tassel) to R1 (beginning silk).

“Every time we get a new disease in our area, the old diseases will remain. It is important to manage for the disease spectrum as a whole.”

Southern rust will not survive our winters and moves from south to north with wind currents each year. That means infection timing varies from year to year. Fortunately, new advancements have led to fungicides that can be sprayed at VT-R1 timing to combat southern rust, even if it shows up later in the season. Further, these newer premium fungicides also offer the best yield protection from tar spot when applied during that timing. The new formulation allows growers to incorporate tar spot protection into management practices for historic diseases.

As we move into the season, stalk and ear rots become diseases of concern. Anthracnose, fusarium and giberella are three of many stalk rots that hinder the standability of a corn crop. We can’t directly fight these diseases with a fungicide, but that VT-R1 application can improve overall plant health and reduce the negative effects of these rots. Maintaining good soil fertility will also help. Adequate levels of nutrients, especially potassium, contribute to a healthy stalk and make it more difficult for pathogens to infect.

Ear rots such as aspergillus, diplodia, fusarium and giberella decrease grain quality. Some fungal pathogens produce mycotoxins that can negatively affect human and livestock health. As with stalk rots, fungicides will not directly protect against ear rots. However, we can defend against them with good soil fertility for general crop health.

If ear rot does occur, damaged kernels tend to be light and can be discarded by making combine adjustments. Proper storage is also important to keep any mold from spreading to healthy grain in the bin. Drying immediately to less than 15% moisture and then cooling to under 50 degrees will help maintain good grain quality in storage.

Every time we get a new disease in our area, the old diseases will remain. It is important to manage for the disease spectrum as a whole. The best way to start is a sound cropping plan, which not only covers disease control strategy but also fertility, insect and weed management. Contact MFA’s knowledgeable location managers and agronomy personnel to help develop your cropping plan.

CLICK TO READ MORE FROM THE 2024 MAY ISSUE OF TODAY'S FARMER MAGAZINE.

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Let’s get back to the basics

For growers heading into a new crop season, there’s certainly been a lot going on. We’ve experienced interest rate increases, heard what we can and can’t Jessedo with dicamba in Xtend soybeans, dealt with market fluctuations and seen changes in chemical pricing. Even with all these complexities, sometimes the solution can be something as simple as going back to the basics.

The first “basic” to consider is soil fertility. That is the most important driver in crop production. Without the proper soil pH and fertility, we cannot maximize any in-season application. When I think about soil fertility, I recall watching my mom balancing the checkbook. She’d sit at the kitchen table several nights a week making sure family finances were squared away. Why did she do this? She didn’t want to overdraft and bounce a check. The same concept is true for our soil bank account. We must know the fertility levels, especially potassium and phosphorus, to make sure we don’t draw out more than we put in.

It starts with a soil sample, and there are different ways of getting this data. Composite sampling is as basic as you can get. It’s like calling the bank and asking how much is in your checking account. That’s fine and dandy. But what if you have uncashed checks or automatic withdrawals scheduled? If you don’t know that info, an overdraft can occur easily.
What’s better than composite sampling? That’s grid sampling, offered in our Nutri-Track program. Grid sampling is like my mother’s approach to balancing the checkbook. She tallied every check written and every cash withdrawal to know exactly what was in the account.

“Have a plan, cover the basics, make agronomically correct decisions and do what has been proven to make money on your farm.”

Next, let’s talk dicamba. We’ve all heard by now when it comes to XtendiMax, Engenia and Tavium products, however much is in the retail space is all there is to be sold. There is probably not going to be enough to cover every acre. The best way to combat a shortage of dicamba is simple—don’t let weeds come up. And this advice goes for other technology platforms such as Enlist as well.

I recommend that growers spend more on their residual programs this year, specifically front-loading their pre-emergent herbicides. This can be done multiple ways. The product rate can be increased, you can add more actives or use more modes of action. The method depends on the driver weeds in a given field.

For example, you can use a standard rate of Boundary, which is 2 quarts per acre, spiked with 2.5-3 ounces of Zidua to get a longer length of residual. This does two things. First, you’ll see less weed competition early in the season. Data that shows early season is the most important time to be weed free. Secondly, when weeds do break, they won’t break as fast and as hard, which gets you further down the road and also lets you spray smaller weeds. We all know smaller weeds are easier to control.

Earlier, I mentioned weather. No one can control the weather, but a lot of meteorologists are saying we could have another drought year. Let me remind you that you cannot save your way to prosperity. Again, set the season up for success by making sure fertility is in order. In past drought years, we have looked at fields that were grid sampled and recommendations followed so that pH,

P and K levels were optimum. These fields may have not yielded “good” but always out-yielded fields that did not have optimum fertility.

Markets are also something we can not control. When talking about going back to basics, it’s good to know what you have invested in your crop before you start. This could change in season, but having a detailed spreadsheet of cost per acre and break-even levels is important. Use that information to contract enough to cover your inputs. This takes some stress off a grower in season. I guess it comes down to how much you want to gamble.

No doubt, there are a lot of pressures out there for growers. I encourage you to have a plan, cover the basics, make agronomically correct decisions and do what has been proven to make money on your farm.

CLICK TO READ the full April 2024 Issue of Today's Farmer magazine.

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Managing metabolic resistance in weeds

Dealing with herbicide-resistant weeds is nothing new for row-crop producers in MFA’s trade territory. Most of us in the farming community, myself included, have faced these rebellious weeds one way or another for an entire career—or even a lifetime, if you were born after the mid-1980s. Waterhemp, for example, has shown evolving tolerance to many major herbicide sites of action that we use to manage weeds in row crops.

If this is a familiar issue, why write about it? Simply put, we’re seeing resistance become more complex, requiring us to take weed management up a notch. Many herbicides that were effective are now less or not effective at all when applied after waterhemp has emerged. In most reported cases, resistance is linked to a single, specific mutation at the target site in the plant’s DNA. As a result, herbicides such as Pursuit, atrazine, glyphosate and Flexstar are no longer as effective on waterhemp as they once were.

“Producers need to be aware of metabolic resistance and what it could mean for their weed management program.”


Farmers have been managing this resistance by returning to soil residual herbicides. Mixing multiple modes of action in the spray tank and overlapping those residuals have been excellent strategies. However, some waterhemp populations in the U.S. are breaking through certain residual herbicides with a different type of resistance—metabolic resistance.

Like human metabolism breaks down food, plant metabolism also processes substances, in this case, herbicides. In weeds that have developed metabolic resistance, the herbicide’s active ingredients are broken down into nontoxic byproducts that don’t kill the plant.

Metabolic resistance in weeds is not widespread, but the true extent is unclear. Researching herbicide resistance is a labor-intensive process that involves sampling and collecting seeds from suspected fields and evaluating them under greenhouse conditions. Regardless, producers and agronomic advisors need to be aware of metabolic resistance and what it could mean for their weed management program when they encounter it.

Weed size appears to be a factor in controlling weeds with metabolic resistance. Even though some waterhemp plants may exhibit metabolic resistance, control of small seedlings less than 2 inches tall can be achieved with mesotrione (Callisto or Explorer). However, this is likely a short-term solution if practices are not altered or soil residuals are not activated by sufficient rainfall. Another concern is that other herbicides may not work as effectively. Some data shows that metolachlor and 2,4-D may not control plants with metabolism-based resistance.

How does metabolic resistance change your herbicide programs? So far, the best tactic is to prevent weeds from producing seeds. Integrated weed management and early action on escaped weeds are crucial. Removing escapes during the growing season is much easier than letting one female waterhemp plant release 100,000 seeds or more, worsening the problem in following seasons. Chemical recommendations need to be evaluated field by field, but limiting weed emergence is a great first step.

Soil residuals are an economical and effective way to control most weeds, so do not steer away from them. See-and-spray technologies, which offer precision chemical application, are tools for robust post-emergence applications with multiple effective modes of action when applied to small areas. This method is likely more cost-effective than broadcasting a multiple mode-of-action herbicide mixture on an entire field when weeds are absent. Precision tillage tools can also help spot and mechanically remove weeds but may require additional trips across the field.

Basic agronomic fundamentals also play a role and cannot be ignored. Don’t underestimate the power that proper seed placement and good crop establishment have on reducing weed competition. Selecting the right corn hybrid, soybean variety and planting population for your acre could help by limiting the amount of sunlight that reaches the soil. Light quality can impact weed seed germination, which is why covering the soil with crop leaf foliage is important.

Metabolic-based resistance in weeds is a significant challenge, but producers can minimize its impact with planning and proactive, integrated strategies. Consult your MFA agronomist for more information.

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Does early equal better?

Interest in planting soybeans early to maximize yield potential has increased in recent years. To understand why early-planted soybeans may increase yield, we must look at two very different disciplines: plant physiology and astronomy.

WilburnA soybean plant’s life cycle, including the onset of reproduction or flower initiation, is regulated by night length. Soybeans with shorter relative maturities need less darkness to begin flowering than longer-maturing soybeans. This is why longer maturities are selected for later planting dates, such as double-crop soybeans following wheat. The longer maturity allows the plant to grow more vegetatively before flowering, increasing sites for flowering and yield potential.

That’s the plant physiology portion of the discussion. Now for the astronomy. The first day of summer occurs around June 20-21. This day, the summer solstice, has the longest period of daylight and shortest period of darkness. Soybeans “know” this due to the chemical phytochrome, which is present in plants that have developed trifoliates. As long as soybeans are large enough to contain phytochrome, they will begin flowering at a certain point that’s triggered by length of darkness. That point depends on relative maturity. There are about 10 days between maturity groups, so if Group 3 starts flowering a few days after the solstice, with all else being equal, you can expect Group 4 to start around 10 days later.

Where does the increased yield potential from early-planted soybeans come from? Let’s use an illustration to help explain it. Imagine that the growing season is not measured by days but by a trip up a mountain and down the other side. The peak represents the summer solstice and the least amount of darkness for the year. Every night on the other side of that peak will be a little longer until the winter solstice in December, when the process reverses.

Using the mountain analogy, a soybean passing through a certain elevation that triggers flowering on the back side of the peak will have also traveled through that elevation on the front side. If there is enough growth to produce phytochrome, the plant will start flowering at the earlier “elevation” or period of darkness. Plants that begin to flower prior to the solstice will eventually sense that the nights are still getting shorter and will stop flowering until that same period after the solstice and then flower again. If retained, the flowers produced during the early period provide the opportunity for increased yield deep in the canopy before the rest of the plant shades those flowers.

Understanding these dynamics helps to inform our variety selection. Remember, a Group 3 soybean flowers closer to the solstice than a Group 4. If we want early-planted soybeans, we must plant Group 4 varieties first because their photoperiod will not only occur farther behind the solstice but also that same distance before the solstice.

There are some cautions associated with this practice. Late frost is an obvious one. I spent several early mornings last April exchanging texts with nervous growers who were monitoring freezing temperatures around their bean fields. Not only was the stand at risk, but if a replant was needed, that expense would most likely fall on the grower.

Early flowering also decreases the window for post herbicide applications. Liberty and Xtend may not be applied after R1 (flower on any node), and Enlist may not be applied after R2 (open flower at one of the two uppermost nodes). Changing practices to encourage early flowers only to lose them with an off-label application doesn’t make much sense, so residual herbicides and, in my opinion, narrow rows that shade the ground sooner are key to making this practice work.

In addition to narrow rows, seed treatments are table stakes for early soybeans to manage stand-
robbing fungi and the effects of sudden death syndrome later in the season.

Early-planted soybeans may also benefit from sulfur at planting. Cool soils do not provide as much sulfur through mineralization as warmer soils do, so an application near planting may be beneficial.

Most of us live by the adage of not putting all of our eggs in one basket. We do that with seed varieties, investments and, for some of us, actual eggs. Early-planted soybeans may be a good fit for some of your acres, but date diversification may be prudent to manage the challenges that come with the practice.

Read more of the Feb. 2024 Today's Farmer Magazine Issue HERE.

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