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Shorter may be smarter in corn production

Bayer has developed an innova­tive technology known as the Smart Corn System, which is designed to increase corn yields and maximize profits for farmers. At the heart of this system are short-stature corn hybrids, which grow to 5 to 7 feet versus 9 to 12 feet in traditional hybrids. The shorter height offers increased standability while allowing for season-long access with standard ground rigs.

Currently being tested on about 30,000 acres in 2023, this revolu­tionary system has a target full-scale launch date of 2024.

Making plants shorter for in­creased production is not a new concept in production agriculture. Cereals such as wheat and rice were shortened during the Green Revo­lution from the 1960s to mid-1980s to achieve higher yields and help alleviate poverty and malnutrition around the world.

Bayer is not the only company working on developing short corn. Syngenta, Corteva and Stine are also working on short-stature hybrids. Stine introduced a shorter hybrid about a decade ago as a result of its breeding program.

Bayer’s short corn system uses a combination of genetic modifica­tions and improved digital processes to produce plants that are shorter in height but still produce high yields. The system optimizes corn plants’ growth and development by selecting key genetic traits as well as altering their hormone balance, inhibiting the production of gibber­ellin that causes cell elongation. This process redirects the plant’s energy from vegetative growth toward the production of kernels.

ShannonMCEven though plant height is short­er, ear size and height are expected to be the same as that of traditional corn, with placement estimated to be at least 2 feet off the ground. Plants will still have the same num­ber of leaves as traditional corn but with a shorter distance between each node, contributing to the smaller stature.

There are several key benefits of this new technology that make the idea of short corn enticing. One of the most obvious benefits is increased tolerance to green snap and lodging. Bayer research has shown that its upcoming short corn lines can tolerate wind speeds up to 50 miles per hour. Much like the industry saw with shorter cereals, an increase in standability should allow for seeds to be planted in higher densities. Increased population should have a direct correlation to yield when the system is used to its fullest capabilities.

With plant height expected to only reach 5 to 7 feet, there is an opportunity to use existing standard ground equipment in a way that hasn’t been previously possible. This opens the door for better nutrient management and more timely and efficient plant health applications, such as using fungicides later in the season. These new hybrids should help alleviate the stress that comes with the logistics of trying to get corn side-dressed before it gets too tall for standard ground equipment.

Once the new technology is launched full scale in 2024, there will be a little bit of a learning curve to maximize the system’s potential. The short-stature hybrids are expect­ed to bring increased water usage efficiency as well as improved fertili­ty management. The ability to make later in-season applications should have a significant impact, especially with nitrogen use efficiency.

The short corn system is an ex­citing advancement in the agricul­ture industry, with the potential to increase yields, maximize profits and provide numerous benefits to farmers. In the big picture, its suc­cess could have a significant impact on global food production. At MFA, we’re eager to see the potential in the field, and I’m sure many of our growers are keeping a close watch on this development, too.

Cutline for top aireal image: Bayer showcases breakthrough innovations in agriculture, including Short Stature Corn and CoverCress™, at the company’s Jerseyville, IL site as part of its Fields of Opportunity Technology Showcase. Photo by Bayer.

READ MORE from the June/July 2023 Today’s Farmer’s Magazine, the MFA Incorporated member magazine.

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In-season N for the win

What can I do to be more profitable? How can I grow more bushels on the acres I’m current­ly farming? Those are a couple of questions many farmers find themselves asking. Having a solid plan for nitrogen inputs and using industry-leading technology such as MFA Nutri-Track N is a good place to start.

There is a growing trend to split nitrogen applications, and I’m definitely a fan. By split-applying N, growers aren’t putting all their eggs in one basket. This practice spreads out the fertilizer investment risk and limits potential nitrogen loss due to many factors we cannot control. Splitting nitrogen applications is also good stewardship because growers are putting the nutrient down at the right time for plant uptake.

In the past, many producers in my area applied most—if not all—of their N in the fall, allowing that to carry them all season long. These producers were managing their farms just like their dad and grand­dad did before them. It also means they were not pushing yields. Now, I see more progressive producers moving away from a single nitrogen application and coming back after the crop is planted with a sidedress or topdress application, typically a flat rate of 40 to 80 pounds of nitro­gen per acre.

This is heading down the correct path, but Nutri-Track N can take it a step further.

MFA’s Nutri-Track N is a com­plete nitrogen management tool. It allows growers and agronomists to put their heads together to come up with the best possible in-season N recommendation on a given acre. This program complements the MFA Nutri-Track system by allow­ing seamless data transfer from one program to another. Soil properties and sample results collected for Nutri-Track flow into the recom­mendation creation process, getting away from generic field averages and factoring each sample point’s data into the recommendation. Examples such as pH and organic matter come to mind. Other factors that go into the creation of these recommen­dations include previous nitrogen applications, tillage practices, plant­ing date, variety maturity, etc.

After entering all the data by field, the Nutri-Track N system figures in local rainfall events to show the effect moisture has on nitrogen ap­plied within that field. With a simple click of a button, a new recommen­dation is generated. After a rainfall event, I like to run a report on a couple of fields for each grower to help monitor what’s going on. This tool allows you to see something that you may have missed by just looking at the fields.

With these reports in hand, grow­ers have options:

  • Follow through with the rec­ommendation provided, only editing it with parameters you feel comfortable with, such as a minimum and maximum rate.
  • Use the data provided to deter­mine a more precise flat-rate option. The Nutri-Track N recommendation can help you make a knowledgeable decision.

After determining when it’s time to apply nitrogen, the recommendation can be exported to any controller. Nutri-Track N also has the ability to generate reports by field to print for MFA or grower record-keeping. After the application is made, we continue to monitor nitrogen throughout the season.

Splitting nitrogen applications in season helps producers in many ways. Spoon-feeding nutrients during key times during plant development will further your input dollar and help mitigate losses due to weather-related events. It also allows the producer to keep up with current market prices and be better stewards of the land.

Talk with your local MFA agron­omist to learn more about what Nutri-Track N can do for you and your operation. We want to help you reach for higher goals and not settle for the same yield year after year.

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Mounting resistance threatens pesticide power

Waterhemp resistance to her­bicides is old news. Since arriving on the scene, this pesky weed has quickly developed some level of resistance to multiple sites of action. The subject of this article, water­hemp resistance to Group 27 or HPPD-inhibiting herbicides, is also nothing new. What is new—and concerning—is whether we are ap­proaching a tipping point that leads to widespread resistance.

HPPD stands for the plant enzyme, hydroxyphenylpyruvate dioxygenase, thus the need for a much easier acronym. To simplify a complex process, the inhibition of HPPD by this type of herbicide prevents plant growth by destroying chlorophyll and blocking photosynthesis.

HPPD-inhibitor herbicides include products such as Balance (pre-emer­gent only), Callisto/Explorer, Laudis, and Armezon/Impact. They are also part of many widely used premixes such as Acuron, Resicore and Lexar. HPPDs became popular in the late ’90s and early 2000s for their resid­ual activity as well as post-emergent activity, particularly with waterhemp.

Prior to HPPDs, dicamba was often the go-to herbicide for cleaning up waterhemp in corn, but products such as Callisto quickly took over. Crop safety, ease of use, low rate and overall efficacy won loyalty from growers and retailers alike. Glypho­sate also contributed to the transition from dicamba as Roundup Ready corn gained market share, but resis­tance issues made this a short-lived option for managing waterhemp.

The first chinks in the armor oc­curred over a decade ago. Resistance was reported in two seed corn pro­duction fields in Iowa and Illinois in 2009. Seed corn inbreds are not as competitive with weeds as hybrid corn. The problem is compounded by the open canopy that occurs after detasselling, so multiple post-emer­gent applications were used. The field in Illinois had also been planted in continuous corn, which created additional pressure.

Since that first discovery, HPPD resistance in waterhemp has been confirmed in multiple states, in­cluding Missouri. The University of Missouri reported several sites with resistant populations nearly 10 years ago. These trials looked at mesotrione and did not include atrazine in the mix. Atrazine tank mixed with mesotrione results in synergistic activity on waterhemp and is recommended on the label in certain circumstances. Mesotri­one alone can be effective on small plants, but atrazine becomes very important when taller plants also exist. The label cutoff for waterhemp is 3 inches without atrazine and 5 inches with atrazine. Unfortunately, plants much larger than 5 inches are often sprayed, and atrazine is almost always added when corn measures less than 12 inches.

When the MU data was released, most waterhemp in the country was still being controlled with HPPDs. At the time, the issue did not create major alarm like the other wide­spread resistance issues we had seen.

Fast forward to 2022. Multiple fields were reported to have wa­terhemp survive post-emergent applications of HPPD herbicides. Some of these included plants taller than 5 inches. A few mixes did not appear to have the correct adjuvant load. However, there were many fields where the weeds were small, the adjuvants were correct, and the weeds still survived.

In at least one field I observed, a second post-emergent pass using a different HPPD active ingredient failed after the first post-emergent pass of mesotrione failed. We collected seed in a number of these fields for resistance testing. At press time, the seeds have germinated un­der greenhouse conditions, and the plants are slowly growing. It will still be several weeks before we know whether the plants are resistant.

Even without those test results, growers should incorporate pre-emptive practices into corn weed-control programs. It is much easier to kill a weed in the soil when it has one growing point than when it has emerged with multiple grow­ing points. Relying on a post-emer­gent application to clean up emerged waterhemp in corn is fast becom­ing risky business, just as it is in soybeans. Using multiple effective modes of action prior to waterhemp emergence is key.

If you are forced to control emerged weeds, consider using an­other mode of action. In corn, that usually brings us back to dicam­ba. If you do use an HPPD after emergence, it’s important to scout the field to confirm the weed kill. Scouting may give you a chance to come back with another mode and still clean up missed weeds.

Last, but definitely not least, fol­low the label and include the proper adjuvants at the correct rates.

Regardless of whether last year’s issues are confirmed to be herbi­cide resistance or are attributed to weather or other conditions, we know it is now tougher to control weeds that we’ve controlled in the past. Incorporating an aggressive “start clean, stay clean” approach will help preserve one of the few weed control tools we have for waterhemp.

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Planter prep is first step to crop success

There are multiple factors at play in raising a tremendous crop. While many variables are beyond your con­trol, Team MFA encourages produc­ers to focus on the “Top 5” factors that you can absolutely influence:

1. Soil conditions at planting time

2. Seed placement

3. Seed quality

4. Planting the right hybrid in the right field

5. Post-planting management

As we approach spring planting, growers need to be thinking about all five of these, but today I will focus on the first two factors.

Planting into proper soil con­ditions is critical enough that you need to forget what the calendar says and keep a sharp eye on soil temperature and moisture. Corn, for example, requires a soil temperature of 50 degrees to germinate. A corn seed also takes in its first moisture needed to germinate within 24 to 48 hours after planting. If this moisture is cold, it can cause cell damage, which results in what is known as imbibitional chilling. The damaged tissue from imbibitional chilling can lead to poor and uneven emergence. It also opens the door for seedling diseases to attack. For these reasons, in addition to watching current soil temperatures, you need to watch the forecast for the 48 hours after the anticipated planting date.

For optimal emergence, it is important to wait for excessive soil moisture to dissipate. Planting into wet soils will cause disk openers to smear the sides of the seed trench to the point that the closing wheels cannot properly fracture them. This is known as sidewall compac­tion, which leads to improper root development. In this situation, the roots proliferate within the area opened by the disk openers but not the surrounding soil, resulting in hatchet-shaped roots. This reduces nutrient uptake, anchoring ability and overall root mass.

Proper seed placement is essen­tial. A corn stand will have higher yield potential if all its plants emerge within 12 to 24 hours. To attain such uniform emergence, you need consistent seed depth.

Generally, I recommend planting corn at a minimum of 2 inches to avoid temperature fluctuations and to promote good root development. In dry soil conditions, you may need to go deeper to get all seeds into moisture. Ensuring even spacing between seeds and minimizing skips and doubles also help protect yield potential.

For all these things to happen, you must first examine the planter to make sure all parts are properly adjusted and replaced if needed. I like to start by ensuring the planter is level when down. A bubble level is usually adequate to ensure that the 7x7 bar is even with the ground. You also need to check for excessive movements in the parallel arms. If this is an issue, look for worn bush­ings that need to be replaced. Nuts and bolts should also be checked throughout the planter for proper tightness. Then, make sure the drive system is running smoothly. In the case of a mechanically driven planter, all chains need to be checked for kinks or rust, properly lubricated and replaced if needed.

From there, I find it helpful to visualize the path that the seed is taking through the planter and think about all stages in that journey. The seed first goes through the meter. Meters should be checked and calibrated on a test stand to ensure proper seed singulation. Many MFA locations and equipment dealerships have a test stand and can calibrate planter meters.

The seed then travels down the seed tube, which should be checked for wear along with the seed tube protector. Worn parts should be re­placed. A worn protector will allow contact with the disk openers, which leads to increased tube wear.

The seed then falls into the seed trench, which was cut open by the disk openers to the depth allowed by the gauge wheels. Down pressure should be set high enough to reach this desired depth, but excessive down pressure can lead to compac­tion. Maximum allowed disk opener wear should be ½ inch of new. For example, if a new opener is 15 inch­es, it should be replaced when worn under 14.5 inches.

The seed is then pressed to the bottom of the trench by a proper­ly set firmer for best seed-to-soil contact. From there, an accurately adjusted closing wheel system will fracture the sidewall of the trench and cover the seed.

Many planters are also equipped with row cleaners, which, when cor­rectly set, will move surface residue without disturbing the soil. Since all planters are different, I encourage consulting the owner’s manual for more specific recommendations.

Finally, slow down, and enjoy the ride. Planting too fast can counteract some of the positive adjustments that you have made to your planter.

The preparations you make now will factor into your success this growing season. If you need assis­tance with planter setup and evalua­tion, talk with the agronomy experts at your local MFA or AGChoice center. We’ll be happy to help.

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Manage small for big returns

With near-record highs of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) as I write this article, a question I’ve been asked a lot lately is, “How much fertilizer should I ap­ply?” In response I say, “It depends.” I know. Brilliant, right?

But honestly, effective fertilization does depend on multiple factors, many of which you can control. Questions I might ask in return include, “What are your current soil test levels? What are your yield goals for this field? What are you doing to protect your fertility investment?”

As a district precision manager for MFA as well as a licensed MFA crop insurance agent, I spend much of my time thinking about risk management. Often on my mind are ways I can help farmers manage risk when it comes to fertility, and how I can help leverage their crop insur­ance to manage on-farm risk.

When it comes to managing your fertility investment, a key consid­eration is making sure that you are putting N, P and K in the right place at the right rates for the production goals of your fields. However, the first thing you need to address is soil pH. At MFA, we do that through Nutri-Track, a high-yield system that focuses on managing fertility on an acre-by-acre basis. A colleague of mine once said, “manage small for big returns,” and that hits the nail on the head.

Managing small by using Nutri- Track to properly correct pH can produce big returns. Low and high pH levels can tie up recently applied phosphorus to the point of making it unable to do its job of feeding the crop. Through precision applications, you can correct low areas with lime without raising pH in areas of fields that are already elevated or close to optimum. A flat rate of lime does not take into account current pH levels in your fields.

Much of the pH correction is done in the fall, and maybe you’ve already got your P and K applied and possibly part of your nitrogen for the upcoming crop. There are still things you can do to help pro­tect your fertility investment. One way is through in-season nitrogen management. MFA encourages split applications of nitrogen for several reasons. First, it promotes environ­mental stewardship. Second, we can better partner with our growers and provide more return on investment through accurate, in-season nitrogen recommendations.

MFA uses the Nutri-Track N com­puter model, powered by Adapt-N, to account for in-season losses through weather events and growing conditions on your specific fields. This allows our precision agronomy specialists to make an accurate ni­trogen recommendation during the growing season, which can go a long way toward helping maximize inputs applied ahead of your crop.

What if you haven’t yet applied P and K for next season? Nutri-Track is highly customizable. MFA fertility recommendations feature a build and removal component, and these types of recommendations provide the best results in my experience. However, in years with higher P and K prices, on some fields it may make sense to focus on removal only. May­be rented ground fits this scenario for your operation.

MFA can use yield monitor data to create recommendations that replen­ish P and K removed by the previous crop. While this option doesn’t build soil fertility, it can help place fertility where it will do the most good in the short term. The needed nutrients go to more productive acres without over-applying on less-productive acres. Better fertility placement allows you to raise overall farm yield averages and return on investment. Applying more P or K where you don’t need it—and not enough where you could use more—doesn’t make much sense. The removal-only approach, using yield monitor data, allows us to remedy that.

If you are not enrolled in Nutri- Track or don’t have a yield monitor for more precise recommendations, let me caution you that cutting fertilizer application rates on all fields equally is not the way to go. Focus on productivity levels and goals of each farm or field. Contact your local MFA manager, precision agronomy specialist or key account manager and work through where you should place fertility to best protect your input investment.

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